Notes and Editorial Reviews
VÉGH IN HUNGARY
Sándor Végh, cond; Camerata Salzburg
BUDAPEST MUSIC CENTER CD 194 (2 CDs: 114:18) Live: Budapest
Symphony No. 9.
Symphony No. 35,
Symphony No. 103,
Sándor Végh became a cult figure in Central Europe during his years conducting the Camerata Salzburg. To hear Végh on these CDs leading the orchestra in concert in his native Hungary is especially noteworthy. The way Végh breathes life into compositions is more vivid for me in live performance than in his studio recordings, fine as those are. Végh’s conducting style harks back to his experience as a string quartet leader, a role in which he excelled and which occupied most of his career. There is no such thing as a subordinate part in a Végh performance; every section of the orchestra is rigorously rehearsed and prominently presented. Végh’s interpretations have an overwhelming sense of atmosphere. In this he perhaps was influenced by his friend and colleague Pablo Casals, whose conducting also had an inspirational quality. Although the Camerata Salzburg is a chamber orchestra, there is nothing of period-performance practice in Végh’s realizations of the First Viennese School. These are performances in which 19th-century spirituality meets 20th-century orchestral discipline. They are quite palpably renditions by a great musician.
Végh treats Beethoven’s
as a stepping stone on the way to the
. There is, at first, the same agitated string writing, followed similarly by a melody that Végh lets float over the orchestra on its every appearance—caressed by the lower strings. For Végh, the overture is an enlarged form of quartet writing. The audience greets the work’s conclusion with silence. Végh’s performance of Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony is in the best Romantic era tradition. The opening theme strides across the ensemble in long-breathed phrases matched by a rich orchestral tone. The wind choirs here sound Masonic, and the development has an element of mystery. The atmosphere of the slow movement is that of a serenade, with exceptional depth to the string sound and exquisite first violins. The development features colors reminiscent of
, and at times the Don’s own serenade is evoked. Next comes a vigorous minuet, more a dance by peasants than by courtiers. The wind sound is particularly rustic, notably from the reeds. The last movement is a seat-of-your-pants, flying presto, with the strings really digging in. The timpanist wails away like Ringo Starr. I usually prefer my Mozart from Roger Norrington, but Végh’s earnestness certainly secures a place in my heart.
Hungarian musicians have a special affection for Haydn. Végh evinces the no-nonsense approach of his countrymen Szell and Doráti. He gives the “Drumroll” Symphony a soulful
introduction, with a firm bass line. The tonal color here resembles Haydn’s
Seven Last Words
. The movement’s main section goes truly
. In keeping with the symphony’s introduction, the second movement is remarkably slow and intense. The concertmaster’s extensive solo sounds just right at this speed, so Végh certainly has made his point. The overall quality of the movement is meditative and mysterious rather than somber, with a rich palette of string colors. The rustic ending of the movement seems to have influenced Beethoven in the third movement of his “Pastorale” Symphony. The minuet has the feeling of a small dance ensemble enlarged to a full orchestra. In the trio, the blend of winds with strings shows special refinement. Végh presents a finale with phenomenal articulation, every accent in its place. The kaleidoscopic quality of the movement’s ending may derive from the same portion of Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony. This probably shouldn’t be your first recording of the “Drumroll” Symphony, but it is a real eye opener.
Végh’s Schubert Ninth is indisputably a great performance. I’ve listened to it already six times. It may be unusual to hear the work performed by a chamber orchestra, but their balances are close to ideal. This is a rendition in the Central European tradition, emphasizing mellifluousness and gorgeous tone. As with the old school, Végh is not lavish with repeats. The introduction to the first movement is measured, soulful, and beautifully shaped, with a delicate play of light and shade. The movement’s main section is judiciously paced, with excellent playing from the brass. Its rhythmic lift will set your pulse racing. In the slow movement, Végh’s tempo is deliberate—but it moves,
. It has a marvelous sense of swing and sway, and a hint of a dance, all presented with a rich-hued tonal palette. The movement’s second section feels like a breeze over a field. The melody for cellos is delicate and ephemeral. Végh’s scherzo sounds vigorous, a bit rustic in the biting accents from strings, brass, and timpani. The trio feels like an idealized drinking song, with the wind choir supplying the chorus. The finale possesses the atmosphere of a company filled, rollicking carriage ride, the wheels bouncing along beneath. Here the quote of the “Ode to Joy” seems like a peasant’s song. Végh, as is traditional, does not observe the decrescendo on the work’s final chord, but this is a small quibble about a truly terrific performance.
The sound engineering is excellent, very natural except for occasional cloudiness in tuttis.
Végh in Hungary
is one of the best live performance CDs I know. The music-making is unusually passionate and committed. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
Works on This Recording
Coriolan Overture in C minor, Op. 62 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Written: 1807; Vienna, Austria
Symphony no 35 in D major, K 385 "Haffner" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Written: 1782; Vienna, Austria
Symphony no 103 in E flat major, H 1 no 103 "Drumroll" by Franz Joseph Haydn
Written: 1795; London, England
Symphony no 9 in C major, D 944 "Great" by Franz Schubert
Written: ?1825-28; Vienna, Austria
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