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Kodaly Conducts Kodaly

Kodaly / Gyurkovics / Gancs / Cser / Hso
Release Date: 04/26/2011 
Label:  Hungaroton   Catalog #: 32677/8   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Zoltán Kodály
Conductor:  Zoltán Kodály
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hungarian State OrchestraBudapest Philharmonic OrchestraBudapest Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



KODÁLY Psalmus Hungaricus. Missa brevis. Budavári Te Deum. Summer Evening 1. Concerto for Orchestra 1 Zoltán Kodály, cond; various soloists, Budapest Ch; Hungarian St O; 1 Budapest P Society O HUNGAROTON 32677-68 (2 CDs: 124:23 Text and Translation)


Kodály never trained as a conductor while Read more studying music under Charles Widor in Paris. It wasn’t until 1927 that this became an issue, when the Amsterdam Oratorio Society’s chorus master, Alfred Tierie, wrote a letter praising Kodály’s Psalmus Hungaricus , and asked him to conduct it. As Kodály later recalled, he repeatedly refused the request but Tierie wouldn’t give up, offering to pay for everything, and even to take over the baton at the last moment if the rehearsals went poorly. This led Kodály to an unorthodox solution: He engaged a chorus master friend to teach him conducting basics, while using another friend of theirs, a pianist, as their “orchestra.” After this he traveled to the Netherlands, and in his memoirs many years later made plain his astonishment and skepticism at the supposed size of his success. Much the same reactions heralded his conducting of the Psalmus Hungaricus back home in 1929, where musicologist and critic Aládar Tóth wrote of “a touching simplicity and absence of posing” in his podium work, and that Kodály “conducts with sure, clear gestures that would put many an experienced conductor to shame.”


Hungary was not a major venue for classical recordings in the 1930s, however, and in any case Kodály fought shy of the studios until the 1950s. A collaboration between Hungaroton and Deutsche Grammophon finally resulted in a series of albums made under the composer’s direction between 1956 and 1960. Among their virtues were Miklós Forrai’s Budapest Chorus, one of several Hungarian world-beater choruses at the time, and Kodály’s minutely detailed attention to his own scores. These come together in the Missa brevis , where most of the work features the chorus. The 1950s were a watershed period for Hungarian choruses in general, where many years during which public schools trained all students according to the Kodály Method finally paid off with numerous victories in international choral events.


The soloists are less successful overall. Endre Rösler, heard to stylish advantage as Belmonte in Klemperer’s Hungarian-language version of Die Entführung aus dem Serail in 1950, makes heavy weather through much of his lengthy solo part in the 1957 Psalmus . The voice is fine when not pushed and in the lower part of its range, but he strives too often to sound heroic, and comes off as strenuous. A slight insecurity in the vibrato becomes a full flap, wide of pitch around G below high C. The Missa brevis of 1956 finds him in better shape, though Magda Tiszay’s frequent swoops edge her perilously close to a caricature of a contralto, despite some attractive tone. Among the basses, György Littasy’s higher notes are strained; András Farragó is distinctly better for range, musicality, and solidity. Tibor Udvardy, who could sing softly with a fine sense of phrasing (his Hungarian version of “Je crois entendre encore” from The Pearl Fishers is notable), displays finesse, but Irén Szecs?dy doesn’t, and lacks the ability to color her final phrases as the score demands.


The Hungarian State Orchestra, today the Hungarian National Philharmonic, comes across as nuanced and enthusiastic, if slightly ragged at times. The Budapest Philharmonic Society Orchestra, now the Budapest Philharmonic, displays excellent solo work (clarinet and horn) and a fine sheen to its strings in Summer Evening , despite some momentary intonation problems. Kodály takes the opening movement of the Concerto for Orchestra at a surprisingly moderate pace, though it helps bring out the counterpoint to advantage.


The engineering is generally good, but I’m not sure why the mono originals were remastered into stereo, as has been done here. This affects balance and timbre, two issues that were central to Kodály’s concept of musical sound. Both soloists and chorus are a bit too distant from the microphone in the Missa brevis . There’s some boxiness throughout and constriction around climaxes, but not enough to make for uncomfortable listening. Full texts are included in Hungarian and English for the Psalmus , and in Hungarian, Latin, and English for the Missa and the Te Deum.


None of these recordings make later versions redundant. Ferencsik’s Concerto (Hungaroton 12190) and Te Deum and Missa brevis (Hungaroton 11397), Kertész’s Psalmus (Decca 001407002), and Adám Fischer’s Summer Evening (Budapest Music Center 141) remain my current favorites. But it’s good to have these performances available, warts and all. Kodály is lovingly attentive to his music, if usually less spectacular than other conductors, and the Budapest Chorus is a joy.


FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

1.
Psalmus hungaricus, Op. 13 by Zoltán Kodály
Conductor:  Zoltán Kodály
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hungarian State Orchestra,  Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra,  Budapest Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923; Hungary 
2.
Missa brevis by Zoltán Kodály
Conductor:  Zoltán Kodály
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hungarian State Orchestra,  Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra,  Budapest Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; Hungary 
3.
Budavári Te Deum by Zoltán Kodály
Conductor:  Zoltán Kodály
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hungarian State Orchestra,  Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra,  Budapest Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; Hungary 
4.
Summer evening by Zoltán Kodály
Conductor:  Zoltán Kodály
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hungarian State Orchestra,  Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra,  Budapest Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906/1929; Hungary 
5.
Concerto for Orchestra by Zoltán Kodály
Conductor:  Zoltán Kodály
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hungarian State Orchestra,  Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939-1940; Hungary 

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