Notes and Editorial Reviews
Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song,
Dances of Galánta. The Peacock
István Kertész, cond; London SO; London S Ch
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 4873 (69:43)
The works on this CD date from the second period of Zoltán Kodály’s compositional career, when he was concentrating on orchestral music; his
first period was devoted to chamber music and songs. István Kertész was a student of Kodály, so the performances on this disc certainly have a claim to authenticity. The
Suite long has been Kodály’s most popular work. It was splendidly recorded in the monaural era by Toscanini and Artur Rodzinski. Of Háry, the protagonist, Kodály wrote, “The widely known figure of a veteran soldier who entertains his listeners with tales of what never happens, becomes in the Hungarian version…richer and more profound, a mirror of Hungary, as it were.” Kertész’s account of the suite begins with a vivid orchestral sneeze, proving that the tales that follow all will be true. “The Fairy Tale begins” is somewhat macabre here, like a tale by the Brothers Grimm. The “Viennese Musical Clock” is richly colored and rhythmically varied, like an intricate clock mechanism. A deeply lyrical account of the “Song” follows. “The Battle and Defeat of Napoleon” comes off here as a miniature symphonic poem, with a haunting saxophone solo when Háry takes Napoleon prisoner. The “Intermezzo” in Kertész’s hands almost sounds like popular music. In the final movement, the Austrian emperor and his court are depicted with typical peasant irreverence. The London Symphony’s virtuoso playing helps make Kertész’s
a memorable experience.
were commissioned by Willem Mengelberg for the 50th anniversary of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and were premiered in Amsterdam in 1939. In December 1941, Mengelberg gave the Budapest premiere, and it is tempting to imagine the 12-year-old Kertész in the audience. On this CD, the variations are prefaced by a sprightly rendition of Kodály’s setting of
as a song for unaccompanied chorus; unfortunately, no text is provided. Of the orchestral work, Kodály wrote, “Variation is the only form which leaves the folksong and its kernel untouched, which does not develop it any further, but rather reinforces it.” Kertész’s
are the best I’ve ever heard. The opening section with the theme is richly evocative of the song’s historical roots. Kertész then launches into a dramatic account of the first three variations. Variations 7 and 8 sound like a horse galloping. In 9, the influence of Debussy is evident harmonically. Ten feels a little like Bartók’s
. Eleven possesses a folk quality reminiscent of Chopin. Kertész brings out orchestral colors like a Mahler slow movement in 12. Thirteen is a funeral march in the abstract, with no mourning or grief. Fourteen features a gorgeously evocative flute solo. The accents in 15 suggest a klezmer band. The
quality in 16 prompts a summing up of what’s gone before. For Kertész, the finale is a fantasy on various folk tunes, a kaleidoscopic picture of the world that contains
. In Kertész’s hands, this is a work of great stature.
The CD concludes with a vivid account of the
Dances of Galánta
. Kertész’s introduction is richly textured. The first dance opens with a terrific clarinet solo (Is it Gervase de Peyer?), after which the orchestra really digs in. A peculiar sort of Hungarian wit and panache defines the second dance, while the third provides a field day for the winds. The fourth dance is an orchestral showpiece, while the fifth here has the atmosphere of a village dance. The sound engineering throughout the CD is top notch Decca analog, with just the slightest constriction occasionally to the dynamic range. If you are looking for native Hungarian renditions of these works, Hungaroton offers János Ferencsik in the suite and Antal Doráti in the variations, both good performances. Nimbus has a digital account of all three of these orchestral works, featuring Ádám Fischer and the Hungarian State Orchestra; it generally is an excellent disc, just with some unduly slow tempos in the suite. Artur Rodzinski’s account of the dances is sensational. Kertész’s disc has to be a top recommendation for all these works. Rarely has Kodály shined so brightly. In Kertész’s company you feel that you are getting to know the composer personally. No higher accolade can be bestowed on an interpretive artist.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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