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Farkas: Magic Cupboard, Songs / V. Vaszy, M. László, Et Al

Release Date: 02/28/2006 
Label:  Hungaroton   Catalog #: 32419   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ferenc Farkas
Performer:  György RadnayJános Michels
Conductor:  Ferenc Farkas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hungarian Radio/TV Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

FARKAS The Magic Cupboard . 1 Malaysian Daydreams . 2 3 Songs . 3 Guillevic Songs . 4 Hommage à Alpbach . 5 Forgotten Melodies . 6 Read more class="ARIAL12bi">5 Songs on Poems by Transylvanian Poets . 7 Calendar 8 ? Viktor Vaszy, cond; 1 Ferenc Farkas (pn), 2?7 cond; 8 Margit László ( Zulejka ); 1,3,4 József Dene ( Cadi ); 1 György Radnai ( Vizier ); 1 József Gregor ( Mufti ); 1 József Réti ( Master Carpenter ); 1 Alfonz Bartha ( Hassan ); 1 Erzsébet Török, (sop); 2 Judit Sándor (mez); 5 Boldizsár Keönch (ten); 6,7 Anna Báthy (sop); 8 Endre RÞsler (ten); 8 Hédi Lubik (hp); 8 Árpád Hajdú (db); 8 Szécsi Str Qrt; 8 Budapest Wind Qnt; 8 Hungarian R/TV O & Ch 1 ? HUNGAROTON HCD 32419?20 (2 CDs: 141:09)

Not every composer in Hungary who came of age in the 1920s and 1930s studied with Weiner or Kodály. Ferenc Farkas (1905?2000) actually began with Weiner, but then moved to Rome for a time and spent his finishing years with Respighi. He ultimately returned in 1935 to assume a variety of teaching and administrative positions, culminating in a lengthy professorship of composition at the Budapest Academy of Music (1949?1975). His pupils were a testimony to his openminded instruction: Ligeti, Bozay, Kurtág, Petrovics, and Szokolay, among others. At the same time, Farkas built a reputation as a solid composer. His influences were broad: Gesualdo, Kodály, Berg, Stravinsky, and Hungarian folk ballads. (Two very different versions of his delightful ballad-based Hungarian Dances can be heard with the Thurston Clarinet Quartet on ASV WHL 2076, and the Borealis Wind Quintet on MSR Classics B0009KBTRY.) He was well recorded throughout the LP days of Qualiton and Hungaroton, from which the latter has drawn several recent retrospective CDs of his art.

Farkas?s relatively short (less than 90 minutes) 1942 comic opera, A býuvös szekrény (?The Magic Cupboard?), is very much in the satirical, anti-authoritarian mode that runs through many aspects of Hungarian artistic culture. (Another libretto in a similar vein graces Ranki?s King Pomade?s New Clothes .) The tale derives from that wonderful collection of Arabic oral folklore, A Thousand and One Nights : Zulejka seeks the intercession of three high officials, the Vizier, Cadi, and Mufti, to help free her unjustly imprisoned husband. Each, during a private interview, demands that she grant him an assignation first. To this, Zulejka thrice agrees, all at her home, and (unbeknownst to each) at the same time. She then goes and orders a huge cupboard from a master carpenter, who makes the same requirement of her?and receives the same promise. The cupboard duly shows up; and as each of the four lover wannabes arrive, Zulejka pushes the one who has previously appeared into it to hide. The fourth is convinced to follow the others by the impending arrival of the local populace, previously invited by Zulejka. When they show up, she opens the cupboard, revealing the abuse of power, and her neighbors shame the Vizier, Cadi, and Mufti into securing the immediate release of the husband.

The music is light, stylistically conservative, but well constructed, with a personality that looks mostly to Kodály but occasionally nods at Puccini in his most tender melodic manner (especially in Zulejka?s scene with the Cadi). The libretto keeps things moving, and so does Farkas, by employing wide textural variety and a lack of traditional closed forms. Elements of caricature appear throughout, and much as you?d expect, it?s all associated with the three authority figures. But there?s great tenderness in this opera, too, usually in brief moments when Zulejka reveals her true emotions, or in the finale, after securing Hassan?s release.

The producers secured a number of Hungary?s finest singers, and the results are excellent. Outstanding are Margit László?s beautifully equalized tone and lovely voice, József Gregor?s pompous Mufti, and the warmly lyrical sound of József Réti as the Carpenter. Vaszy brings a rhythmic bounce and tonal refinement to the score, but the Hungarian RTV Orchestra is a bit slipshod in its entries.

All but 15 minutes of the second CD are taken up with song cycles by Farkas. These occupied a special place in his ?uvre , more personal and musically adventurous than much of his educational music or larger, more public scores. Six collections and a seventh stand-alone work are included. The songs of Hommage à Alpbach (1968) are atonal, though not especially dissonant, and do not follow any system. The 1958 Three Songs , 1980 Forgotten Melodies , and Five Songs on Poems by Transylvanian Poets (1981?1982) reside just this side of tonality, albeit in a freely tonal neighborhood where block parties mix dissonant and traditional harmonies without prejudice. More Kodály-like in its musical language is Malaysian Daydreams , from 1943, while the Guillevic Songs (1960) combines childlike melodies and bass lines with bitonal elements. Finally, there?s Calendar from 1956, a succession of 12 pieces that are more theatrical and varied in character and extroverted in expression. Their manner approaches that of The Magic Cupboard , with added gravitas in many selections. They also share another feature with that opera: the ability to provoke in this listener a real sense of frustration because no English texts are included. At least we?re given a scene-by-scene synopsis for The Magic Cupboard , but all we?re provided for Calendar are the names of the months, and full texts in Hungarian. (A lengthy bio on Farkas in English? Yes. Go figure.)

The performances are a mixed bag. Török?s voice sounds immature and flats out around the bridge, but there?s no denying the intensity of her interpretation. Lászlo is again excellent, as are both Sándor and Keönch in their respective songs. Báthy is characterful, but RÞsler strains for higher notes, and resorts too often to indeterminate pitches rather than singing. Farkas himself provides the piano accompaniment on these selections and does a fine job, while the Szécsi String Quartet is scrappy at best.

The sound quality is good of its kind regardless of the age of the materials involved, but Hungaroton should have really provided more detail about this. There is nothing on the cover to indicate that any of the contents are analog, much less that a few of the items are in good mono sound. Only the legend, ?Recorded at Hungarian Radio between 1955?1983? on the final page of the enclosed booklet, provides any archival information at all.

I realize that a lack of texts will prove a no-sell for many people, but The Magic Cupboard is a real delight. Given that there?s at least a synopsis provided, I urge you to consider its purchase. In turn, you might consider letting Hungaroton know that they should at least put an English translation up on their Web site, or risk losing sales while doing a disservice to a distinguished countryman and composer.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

The Magic Cupboard by Ferenc Farkas
Performer:  György Radnay (Baritone), János Michels (Bass)
Conductor:  Ferenc Farkas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hungarian Radio/TV Orchestra

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