Leo Weiner’s influence as a teacher in Budapest was exceptional and his pupils were some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. But it’s only in recent years that his compositions, with their synthesis of German Romantic and Hungarian elements, have been brought to wider appreciation. Like Csongor and Tunde, the symphonic poem Toldi was inspired by a masterpiece of Hungarian literature. Cast in twelve sections, the music follows the epic poetry in a way that seems to notate the text musically, a unique achievement. Weiner considered Toldi one of his most significant compositions, and he also composed two suites from the work.
This CD advocates Weiner well. The music, here mostRead more vividly recorded, is tuneful with a folk-like dancing pastoral way; a touch of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances in track 10. The whole thing, with its mix of rustic innocence and melodrama, reminded me of Kodály (Symphony, Concerto for Orchestra and Summer Evening), the folksy concert-hall works of Miklós Rózsa, the tone poems of Siegfried Wagner, and of the more bucolic aspects of Franz Schmidt (Husarenlied Variations). Do not expect Weiner to deliver a Bartók-like finish; there’s no trace of any influence from Bartók’s mature works - perhaps Kossuth but that’s about it. The work’s airy textures add to the wide-sky romantic nationalism. It’s performed with mordant vitality and the brass are by no means reticent. Each movement has a title and each ‘picture’ is linked to the picaresque escapades of Miklós Toldi as recounted by Arany. Toldi acquits himself heroically in many adventures. There is no shadow of irony or caricature or rebellion. He is clearly no Schweik, János, Beckus, Eulenspiegel or Quixote. Instead he is a square-on straight-faced hero portrayed in terms, romantic and heroic, a little like Ilya Mouramets but without Gliere’s colossal orchestra and extravagance and like Strauss in Heldenleben without Strauss’s excesses or bile towards his critics.