Notes and Editorial Reviews
Divertimento for Orchestra
. Concertino all’antica
for Cello and String Orchestra
. Lavotta Suite
for Chamber Orchestra. Maschere for Chamber Orchestra.
Trittico concertato for Cello and String Orchestra. March Suite
for Chamber Orchestra
Péter Csaba, cond; Miklós Perényi (vc); MÁV SO
TOCCATA 0176 (80:00)
This release of music by Ferenc Farkas (1905–2000) is subtitled, “Orchestral Music, Volume 1,” though Toccata Classics has issued more of his music in the past—specifically the complete wind quintets (Toccata Classics 19), which I reviewed back in 2007. It’s good to see a continuing commitment to the composer, even if so many years have passed since then. Hopefully, Volume 2 will take a shorter period to show up, though I’ve been waiting since 2010 on a second volume of Liadov’s piano music featuring that stylish pianist, Olga Solovieva.
To briefly recap: Farkas began his training, like so many Hungarian musicians of his day, with Leó Weiner but, unlike most, continued it in Italy with Respighi. (Who himself had trained abroad with Rimsky-Korsakov. There’s a golden thread of sensitivity to orchestral textures that runs from the latter through successive generations of those he taught and who themselves became teachers.) But at home, he gained a reputation as a fine personal communicator, culminating in 26 years as professor of composition at the prestigious Budapest Academy of Music. None of this prevented his from being a prolific composer as well, turning out over 700 works that included 20 concertos, more than 400 songs, and the music to over 70 films. He continued writing well after his 90th year, with influences that ranged by his own boast from Gesualdo to Berg. Farkas was a polystylist long before that became fashionable. He ranged from non-Schoenbergian atonality to bitonality, acerbic, Stravinsky-like songs to meltingly Puccinian operatic arias. His only internationally known (and frequently recorded) work,
Old Hungarian Dances of the 17th Century
, is a delightfully lighthearted arrangement for wind quintet of anonymous or variously ascribed tunes.
The neoclassical preference for terse statement figures into every movement on this album. Only one is just over five minutes in length. Most clock in around two to three minutes, and several are just over a minute. A sort of breezy, slightly bitonal “neoclassical lite” dominates the character of the Divertimento for Orchestra from 1930, though there are also touches of Hungarian folk motifs throughout, particularly in the finale. And although Farkas claimed to be more influenced by Respighi’s genial character and teaching than his works, it’s the Bolognese composer who takes center stage in the sensuous trio of the second movement, which is soon revealed to be a Romantic variation on the main theme. The work was in fact supposed to premiere under Respighi’s baton, but it ended up receiving a prize in a competition in Budapest, and was first heard with Ern? Dohnányi at the helm. The brash, French overture-like minuet that is its third movement is perhaps the most memorable thing in the work (with Respighi-like treatment of the winds once more in a finely contrasting central section), but the entire thing is a lightweight charmer. Surprisingly, it receives its world premiere recording here.
(1951) are both patterned after the spirit and compositional styles of earlier times, with the concertino originally written for the baryton, the instrument played by Haydn’s primary employer, Prince Nicolaus Esterházy. Its slow movement, an “aria con variazioni,” temporarily plumbs neo-Romantic depths. The
turns to actual themes by János Lavotta, a turn-of-the-19th-century
violinist-composer. By contrast,
from 1983—in five movements, the title and movement names in tribute to the figures of
—is early Stravinsky neoclassical, with typical, low-keyed touches of whimsy occasionally slipping through.
was a response to a commission by Gaspar Cassadó. Its three movements combine free tonality with neo-Baroque motifs and figurations. The central movement, a chromatic, moderately dissonant passacaglia, is the grimmest and most powerful thing on the disc. Finally, there’s the
of 1947, composed at a time when Stalin’s Socialist Realism demanded strong folk elements, straightforward tonality, and simple optimism. Farkas provides, though, with typically neoclassical textural complications and a touchingly melancholy central elegy. It’s better than 90 percent of the stuff I’ve heard written in a similar vein through the late 1940s and 1950s, presumably because the composer found the suit he was required to wear fit less stiffly than many of his contemporaries did.
I recall Péter Csaba as an excellent young violinist on a series of old Electrecord LPs. Here he leads the MÁV musicians with an emphasis on clarity and rhythmic pulse. Slow movements get treated persuasively, but his overly relaxed tempos don’t do justice to any of the faster ones, so that a marking of
goes for 120 bpm under his baton. I can’t fault the orchestra, which dealt easily with the faster tempos Mariuz Smolij threw their way on a recent release of Eugene Zador’s music (Naxos 8.572549). Nor can the slows be attributed to Miklós Perényi, since they occur across the board, including all four works the cellist doesn’t take part in, and he’s his usual eloquent, technically expert self. It’s unfortunate, because Farkas was a witty composer, and much of that vanishes into mere amiability at Csaba’s pacing.
For the rest, the sound is good, with excellent balance between soloists and orchestra. Recommended, but I hope the next volume is more responsive to the composer’s stated tempo preferences.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Divertimento for orchestra by Ferenc Farkas
Venue: Hungarian Radio, Budapest
Length: 17 Minutes 59 Secs.
March Suite, for chamber orchestra by Ferenc Farkas
Venue: Hungarian Radio, Budapest
Length: 10 Minutes 26 Secs.
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