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Dénes Kovács (violin)
Volume 3: Violin Concertos and other works by Hungarian Composers
rec. 1953-82
DOREMI DHR-8121-4 [4 CDs: 294:10]

Thus far there are four Doremi releases devoted to the art of violinist Dénes Kovács and I’ve reviewed the 3-CD concerto box (review) that constituted the first release and the most recent volume (review) that focused on Vivaldi. With this review I’m doubling back to a voluminous volume 3 which has 4 CDs devoted to a swathe of Hungarian concertos and smaller works.

The first disc is devoted to Bartók. The Violin Concerto No.2 with András Kórodi and the Budapest Philharmonic Society Orchestra dates from a mid-60s Qualiton LP and reveals the violinist’s qualities of refinement and tonal breadth. He’s by no means a flashy exponent, getting to the heart of the material via purely musical means. His Rhapsodies were recorded with Janós Ferencsik for Hungaroton c.1970, deft, genial performances that preface a first class reading of the Sonata for solo violin, where his rhythms are pointed, his dynamics sculpted, and the expressive depth of the music treated with absolute conviction.

The second disc introduces rarer material, once again sourced from either Qualiton or Hungaroton LPs. Frigyes Hidas’ two-movement and compact Concertino dates from 1957, the solo violin emerging from orchestral tremolandi with profuse lyric beauty, almost filmic in its effect, whilst the second movement is a darting scherzo with ripe incidents and plenty of motifs to intrigue; the work, in effect, a kind of subdivision into lassú and friss. Gyula Dávid’s 1965 concerto has Bartókian moments of lyricism and tempestuous drama alike. That’s especially true of the slow movement even with its uneasy end. The propulsive finale is exciting and vibrant, but I’d have welcomed a little more thematic content. Nevertheless, it must have remained a strong part of his repertoire as he recorded it again for Hungaroton, a recording with Ervin Lukács that’s not included in this box. Composed much earlier in 1940-41, Pál Kadosa’s Violin Concerto No.2 is aligned more to Bartók than to Kodály stylistically and sports some sprightly folkloric rhythms. The slow movement offers a theme and series of variations, including some very giocoso esprit and some elfin lyricism too: a most attractive work. The final concerto in CD 2 is the 1959 Violin Concerto with piano obbligato by András Mihály. Textures are clear and the piano is sometimes used in a spectral way, notably in the haunted atmosphere of the slow movement. The finale is crisp and clean. The final piece in this disc is Kodály’s Adagio played on a Le Chant du Monde LP in Paris in the mid-50s with pianist Hélčne Boschi.

Disc three is again strongly dominated by Bartók. The Violin Concerto No.1 – the Stefi Geyer concerto - is in the conductorial hands of András Kórodi, whose rapport with Kovács is invariably secure. There are some refined exchanges between the winds and the soloist here. In 1972 Kovács is heard in a broadcast performance of the Second Concerto made available to North American broadcasters (it’s announced), this time with Janós Ferencsik. The soloist’s conception is very much the same as it had been back in c.1965 with Koródi but Kovács is rather more forward in the balance than he had been in the studio LP and he plays a touch more vividly. The last piece on this disc is Mihály Hajdu’s Violin Sonata No.1 which is one of the few pieces undated in the comprehensive track listing but which was written in 1953. It traverses elegant to acerbic with an especially tender slow movement and a genial finale - quite a conventional sonata for its time and place. The pianist is Endre Petri and it’s not clear whether this is a broadcast, LP or private recording. I don’t think it’s from an LP, so I’ll have a stab at a broadcast.

The last disc shows no let-up in names that are possibly unfamiliar and works that may only have had one recording. That’s the value of this box, giving wider currency to long-gone vinyl. The best-known is clearly Dohnányi’s familiar Serenade but there’s no harm in hearing so fine a reading as this one, from a Qualiton LP recorded in 1984 – refinement, expressive interplay, generous phrasing and care over dynamics are all accounted for. The violinist’s string partners are László Bársony (viola) and Károly Botvay (cello). Next is István Sárközy’s Concerto Semplice (1973) with Kórodi once again providing fine support with the Budapest Philharmonic in 1983. This opens with a solo quasi-improvisation and it’s not until 3:40 that the orchestra joins in offering rhythmic support. With the imposing orchestral introduction to the slow movement full of gravity, the tapestry is a purely melancholic one; the burden falls largely on the orchestra, whereas in the finale we have sweetly sung release from care, with capricious delight in every bar. This is an intriguing concerto; it won’t be to all tastes, but it is to mine. By contrast, Antal Ribáry’s Concertino – it lasts around nine minutes – is steeped in twelve-tone but is clearly modelled on Stravinskian structural lines from its four-in-one superstructure (Capriccio-Aria-Jazz-Recitativo e Presto). The sonorities Ribáry generates are excellent, as is his use of percussion. Kovács was a fine exponent of the music of Gyula Dávid, as his concerto performance showed, but here it’s the turn of the 1968 Violin Sonata in this 1980 Hungaroton recording with the excellent Lóránd Szucs. The mood of this ten-minute sonata is tinged with terseness, not least in the piano writing which can be quite spiky. It’s not an easy ride but is valuable and rounds out a little more of Dávid’s music on CD in a performance as authoritative as one is likely to find. To end this disc and the set, there’s another track from that Le Chant du Monde LP with Hélčne Boschi in which they play Bartók’s Rhapsody No.1.

Some of this material has been reissued before. For example, if you have Hungaroton’s 29-CD Bartók box (HCD41002) you will find the solo sonata, the First Concerto, the Second Rhapsody with Ferencsik and a second performance of it, this time conducted by Ervin Lukács.

This is the best volume yet in Doremi’s Kovács series. The repertoire is exciting, the playing is outstanding, and the transfers are good. I hope that the label will reissue his Bach Sonatas and Partitas and the Beethoven sonata cycle with Mihály Bächer, adding those Mozart sonatas that they made together (six by my counting).

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank

Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Violin Concerto No. 2, Sz. 112 (1938) [35:37]
Budapest Philharmonic Society Orchestra/András Kórodi
Rhapsody No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra, BB 94b, Sz 87 (1928-29) [9:27]
Rhapsody No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra, BB 96b, Sz 87, Sz 90 (1928-29; 1935) [10:27]
Budapest Radio Symphony Orchestra/Janós Ferencsik
Sonata for Solo Violin Sz. 117, BB 124 (1944) [23:19]
Frigyes HIDAS (1928-2007)
Concertino for violin and orchestra (1957) [12:29]
Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/György Lehel
Gyula DÁVID (1913-1977)
Violin Concerto (1965) [18:04]
Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Ervin Lukács
Pál KADOSA (1903-1983)
Violin Concerto No.2, Op.32 (1940-41) [22:55]
Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Tamás Breitner
András MIHÁLY (1917-1993)
Violin Concerto with piano accompaniment (1959) [16:03]
Endre Petri (piano)/Hungarian Radio Orchestra/Ervin Lukács
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Adagio for violin and piano (1905) [7:38]
Hélčne Boschi (piano)
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Violin Concerto No. 1, Sz. 36 (1907-8) [19:39]
Budapest Philharmonic Society Orchestra/András Kórodi
Violin Concerto No. 2, Sz. 112 (1938) [35:22]
Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra/Janós Ferencsik
Mihály HAJDU (1909-1990)
Violin Sonata No.1 (1953) [16:59]
Endre Petri (piano)
Ernő DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Serenade for violin, viola and cello in C major, Op.10 (1902) [19:29]
László Bársony (viola): Károly Botvay (cello)
István SÁRKŐZY (1920-2002)
Concerto Semplice for violin and orchestra (1973) [16:50]
Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra/András Kórodi
Antal RIBÁRY (1924-1992)
Concertino for violin and orchestra (1965) [9:19]
Hungarian Radio and TV Orchestra/Miklós Erdélyi
Gyula DÁVID (1913-1977)
Violin Sonata (1968) [10:13]
Lóránd Szucs (piano)
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Rhapsody No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra, BB 94b, Sz 87 (1928-29) [9:58]
Hélčne Boschi (piano)

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