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Kodaly: Psalmus Hungaricus; Missa Brevis; Pange Lingua; Etc; Bartok: Cantata Profana

Kodaly / Kertesz / Solti
Release Date: 11/20/2012 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4804853   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

"Th[is] two-disc set centers on choral music, of which Kodály was (with Janá?ek) an early-20th-century master. The early (1923) Psalmus Hungaricus is a vigorous, dynamic work, and Kertész’s potent, aggressive reading suits it to a tee. Lajos Kozma is a dry-voiced tenor who sings passionately, rising easily to wild climaxes, and the Brighton Festival Chorus is stupendous—as is the LSO. In a word: Wow!

Much of the appeal of Kodaly’s choral music is its blending of centuries-old styles and traditions with modern harmonies. It is this listener’s anti-consensus opinion that the combination does harm to his music: Read more The harmonies infect the purity of the old style, which in turn clogs the music, denying the harmonies the freedom and clarity needed to make their aural points. A continuing presence of the organ is symptomatic. The choral Kodály and the creator of the spicy, brilliant, quicksilver Háry János seem like two different composers. The Brighton Festival Chorus continues its fine work throughout conductor László Heltay’s five performances. Christopher Bowers-Broadbent plays the organ for the Missa Brevis and Pange Lingua ; Gillian Weir for Psalm 114 and Laudes organi; Hymn of Zrindl is a cappella. Vocal soloists for the Mass are sopranos Elizabeth Gale, Sally le Sage, and Hannah Francis, contralto Alfreda Hodgson, tenor Ian Caley, and bass Michael Rippon. Benjamin Luxon is the fine baritone in the Hymn . The performances are all excellent, but the Psalm and Hymn were sung in Guildford Cathedral; its organ is impressive, but the recorded sound can turn the chorus a bit harsh at forte . The other three works are bathed in Kingsway Hall’s wonderful acoustic. The two Heltay LPs were issued only in Great Britain, one of them very briefly; Eloquence is doing us a great service by making these recordings available—in Decca’s usual gorgeous sound. There have been many recordings of the Missa Brevis , both in this version with organ and in the composer’s revision with orchestra. In Fanfare 35:3, Barry Brenesal was not pleased with the solo singing on a two-CD Hungaroton set of composer-led recordings, nor with the electronic-stereo remastering of the mid-1950s recordings. Non-Hungarian performances of Kodaly’s music often lack the intensity needed to bring the music to life; this Brighton chorus is a notable exception.

Georg Solti’s 1997 performance of Bartók’s Cantata Profana —his final recording—made at Budapest’s Italian Institute, exemplifies that remark about Hungarian performers. I have had mixed feelings about all recordings of the cantata since Walter Susskind’s electric performance on a monaural Bartok Records LP. Solti and his Hungarian forces achieve a rare balance of intensity with clarity, plus a heart-rending reading of the brief finale. At long last, everything sounds right, the music makes sense, and Bartók’s work glows. Fanfare ’s Raymond Tuttle writes intelligent, informative program notes; he quotes a long story in which Solti equates his own life with that of Bartók’s nine stags, unable to return home because their antlers will not fit through the doorway. This recording is a final glory in Solti’s great career; even though I don’t like the strangulated tenor, I recommend it above all others."

FANFARE: James H. North
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