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Dénes Kovács (violin)
Volume 3: Violin Concertos and Other Works by Hungarian Composers
rec. 1953-1982
DOREMI DHR-8121-4 [4 CDs: 294:00]

The Hungarian violinist Dénes Kovács (1930-2005) was not only a distinguished proponent of the Hubay school, but made a significant contribution throughout his career as a performer and teacher to preserve the international prestige of Hungarian music. So, it’s apt that Doremi have issued this 4 CD set devoted to music by Hungarian composers. There’s a substantial amount of Bartók, rightly so, and some Kodály and Dohnányi. The rest of the composers featured will be unfamiliar to most, they are certainly to me. However, it’s always a pleasure to encounter rarities, and this superb collection is overflowing with them.

Kovács took up the violin at the age of six and became a pupil of Dezső Rados at the Fodor Music School at the age of eight. In 1944, at the age of fourteen, he entered the class of Ede Zathureczky at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, graduating in 1951. His next banner year was 1955 when he landed First Prize in the Carl Flesch Competition in London. He concertized widely and boasted a wide-ranging repertoire. In addition to the staples, he embraced many contemporary Hungarian works. In 1957 he took on a teaching role at the Liszt Academy and was promoted to head of the violin department in 1959. He became Rector there in 1968. He amassed a sizeable discography on the Hungaroton and Qualiton labels. The performances in this collection are taken from recordings the artist made for these labels and Le Chant du Monde between 1953 and 1982, with the exception of one of the two performances of Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2, which is a live airing complete with announcements and applause set down on September 27, 1972 with the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra under the baton of János Ferencsik.

What of his playing? Well, the first thing I noticed was his vibrant, opulent and sonorous tone, produced with a varied vibrato, capable of striking intensity when called for and consisting of many shades of tonal colour. In addition, he possesses a polished and clean-cut technique and a purity of intonation.

Béla Bartók’s violin works take up the lion’s share of the collection. There are two performances of the Second Violin Concerto, a studio recording from 1965 with András Kórodi conducting the Budapest Philharmonic Society Orchestra and the live airing mentioned above. I have a slight preference for the studio recording, as I find Kórodi more in tune with the soloist, inspiring him to better things. Kovács plays with captivating warmth and intensity. The playing is rhythmically incisive, all the while responding to the changing moods of the music, with dynamics faithfully observed. The recording of the First Concerto with the same forces is from three years later, and I have to admit that the sound isn’t as good; it’s plagued by some background hiss. There are two performances of the Rhapsody No. 1. There’s a 1970 version with orchestra and one with piano, where Kovács is partnered by the Franco-Swiss pianist Hélčne Boschi. The 1965 recording of the Solo Sonata has to be, for me, one of the highlights of the set. Kovács surfs the ebb and flow of its complex narrative with true inspiration and a lofty vision. The Tempo di ciaccona has nobility and grandeur, with the Melodia’s emotional fragility providing some soothing contrast. The finale is dispatched with verve and vigour. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Dohnányi’s Serenade in C major for Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 10 was made famous by Heifetz, Primrose and Feuermann. It’s a delightful score, deftly crafted. Kovács is joined by László Bársony on viola and Károly Botvay on cello in this 1984 Qualiton recording, imbued with Hungarian passion. The Mendelssohnian Scherzo is kept light, airy and buoyant, with the furious semiquavers of the finale a rapid fire chase. A dark, atmospheric introduction opens out into a wistful and plaintive melody on the violin in Frigyes Hidas’ two-movement Concertino for violin and orchestra. The second movement is a Scherzo, which sounds as if it could have come from the pen of Bartók. The 1982 Hungaroton traversal of Gyula Dávid’s Violin Concerto (1965) is in exceptionally good sound. The performance is enhanced by an engaging interplay between soloist and Ervin Lukács who directs the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. Kovács’ playing of this technically demanding score is praiseworthy. Pál Kadosa’s Violin Concerto No. 2, Op. 32 has a particularly attractive central movement marked Sostenuto. It’s a theme and variations, nicely characterized by Kovács and well supported by Tamás Breitner directing the Budapest Symphony Orchestra.

András Mihály’s Violin Concerto with piano obligato was written in 1959 and sounds quite neoclassical in style. Mihály is a dab hand at spectacular orchestral effects. An arresting extended solo cadenza opens István Sárközy’s Concerto semplice for violin and orchestra, which Kovács carries off with aplomb. The Adagio sostenuto which follows is grave and sombre. The mood is lightened in the Mosso finale, which has moto perpetuo elements. Antal Ribáry’s Concertino for violin and orchestra of 1965 is without doubt the most modern-sounding of the rare concertos featured. Atonally drafted, the orchestration is imaginatively wrought, and Miklós Erdélyi does a sterling job in highlighting the kaleidoscopic colour scheme of this scintillating score.

There are two recordings of sonatas for violin and piano. The earliest dates from 1956 and is a collaboration with pianist Endre Petri. Mihály Hajdu’s Violin Sonata no.1 is tonally centred and of a sunny disposition. It has a radiant central movement which is dreamy and ethereal. From 1980 we have Gyula Dávid’s Violin Sonata (1968) with pianist Loránd Szücs. It’s a much harder nut to crack. Dissonant and angular, the opener is turbulent and the underlying unease continues in the central Andante movement. The finale sounds the most atonally etched, and is suffused with restless undercurrents.

The recordings have been lovingly restored by Jacob Harnoy and Clive Allen and sound fresh and vital. I’m pleased that Doremi has provided cameo biographies of all the composers, though information on all the unfamiliar ones can be found on the internet. Doremi’s earlier volumes of Kovács’ recorded legacy have previously been reviewed in these pages (Volume 1 ~ Volume 2).

Stephen Greenbank

Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Rhapsody No.1 for violin and orchestra, BB94b (1929)
Rhapsody No.1 for violin and piano, BB94a (1928)
Rhapsody No.2 for violin and orchestra, BB96b (1928 rev 1935 or 1944)
Sonata for solo violin, Sz117 BB124 (1944)
Violin Concerto No.1, Sz 36 BB48a (1907–08 publ. 1956)
Violin Concerto No.2, Sz112 BB117 (1937-38)
Gyula Dávid (1913-1977)
Violin Concerto (1965)
Violin Sonata (1968)
Ernő Dohnányi (1877-1960)
Serenade for string trio in C major, Op.10 (1902-04)
Mihály Hajdu (1909-1990)
Violin Sonata No.1 (? date)
Frigyes Hidas (1928-2007)
Concertino for violin and orchestra (1957)
Pál Kadosa(1903-1983)
Violin Concerto No.2, op.32 (1940-41)
Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)
Adagio (1905)
András Mihály (1917-1993)
Violin Concerto with piano obligato (1959)
Antal Ribáry(1924-1992)
Concertino for violin and orchestra (1965)
István Sárközy (1920-2002)
Concerto semplice for violin and orchestra (1973)

Participating artists:

Endre Petri (piano)
Hélčne Boschi (piano)
László Bársony  (viola)
Károly Botvay (cello)
Loránd Szücs (piano)
Budapest Philharmonic Society Orchestra
Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra
Budapest Radio Symphony Orchestra
Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Budapest Symphony Orchestra
Hungarian Radio Orchestra
Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra
Hungarian Radio and TV Orchestra

Participating conductors:

András Kórodi
János Ferencsik
György Lehel
Ervin Lukács
Tamás Breitner
Miklós Erdélyi

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