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Mosonyi: Piano Works Vol 1 / István Kassai

Release Date: 05/17/1994 
Label:  Marco Polo   Catalog #: 223557   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Mihály Mosonyi
Performer:  István Kassai
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 17 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Mihály Mosonyi was a discovery for me—a contemporary of Liszt with the sensibility of Bartók; his piano études capture the essence of Hungarian élan without resorting to Lisztian bombast.

-- David Johnson, FANFARE [Want List, 1994]

Known in this country only from a recording of his piano concerto issued on a Candide LP two dozen years ago (it has since been transferred to CD), Mihály Mosonyi (1815-70) has never been entirely neglected by his fellow Hungarians. The annotator of these two Marco Polo discs, Dezö Legány, calls him “the third most important Hungarian composer of the nineteenth century,“ which may seem to be damning him with faint praise, except that
Read more one of the two more important of his countrymen was Franz Liszt. (The other, Ferenc Erkel, also has had a hard time establishing a major reputation outside the confines of Hungary, largely because his specialty was opera in the Magyar tongue, which doesn't travel well.) Mosonyi's posthumous reputation, such as it is, has been sustained by the many flattering things that Liszt said about him, both publicly and in letters to friends. Legány fails to pursue the Liszt connection in his sober, helpful, but heavily musicological notes. The annotator of the old Candide disc did a better job of quoting Liszt on Mosonyi. Among that flamboyant master's comments is this one: “The death of Mosonyi puts our hearts in mourning. It makes us sorrow also for the music of Hungary, of which Mosonyi was one of the noblest, most valiant and praiseworthy representatives.“ Praise came rather too cheaply for Liszt, but he followed it with the sincerest form of flattery, a noble piano elegy (“Mosonyi's Grablied“) in memory of his confrère, who had died too soon at the age of fifty-five. Two years before Mosonyi's death, Liszt had honored him with a transcription from one of his operas (he wrote two). After listening to these two albums—especially the one featuring solo piano music, which I am happy to note is styled “Volume 1“—I think hat Liszt was, indeed, on to a very good thing.

Mosonyi's name at birth, and for all but the last twelve years of his life, was Michael Brand (“Brandt“ according to Baker's Dictionary). It was only in 1858 that he Magyarized his first name and derived a new last name from Moson, the county in which he was born. With his new name he took on a new musical personality. His music had been heavily indebted to the Vienna Classicists (he spent some years as a private tutor in that city). After 1858 it took on a strongly Hungarian accent and at the same time acquired a slimmed-down, direct manner, shorn of much Romantic baggage—a manner that appeals to twentieth-century ears. Both the Brand and the Mosonyi aspects of this little-known composer are in evidence on these discs, the former on the orchestral one, the latter on the one devoted to his solo piano music.

Hungarian Children's World is not designed for children, unless their technique is fully developed. Though this set of twelve genre pieces is not in the virtuoso category, the technical demands call for a pianist of professional capability. The individual numbers vary from forty-eight seconds to five minutes and fifty seconds in length. Each has a programmatic title. “The Little Gypsy Girl“ is a three-tempo czárdás (Adagio-Allegro-Andante) “Lullaby“ ends on an unresolved suspension. “The Little Piper,“ with its elaborate melismas, seems more suitable to a cimbalom than a piano. “Children's Song“ is pure Robert Schumann at first, but launches startlingly into the verbunkos manner in its midsection. “The Story Man“ has several stories to tell: the piece shifts five times between Maestoso and Allegretto, each time bringing in a different set of themes. The last number, “Búcsú“ in Hungarian, is translated a “Kirchweih“ (“Church Ceremony“) in German, and a “Farewell Festival“ in English; whatever “Búcsú“ means, it makes a satisfactorily lively finale to a very attractive set of Kinderszenen.

Studies for Piano, for Development in the Performance of Hungarian Music is the wordy title of the second set of piano works on the disc. These are genuine progressive studies, starting with the simplest exercises and eventually reaching considerable technical complexity. Bartók followed the same procedure in his far more ambitious Mikrokosmos, which may well have borrowed some of its procedures from Mosonyi's set. (Bartók published several letters of Liszt to Mosonyi in the Musical Quarterly in 1921; he was well aware of the work of both men.) There are twenty pieces in this collection. They have less overt programs than the Hungarian Children's World, mostly settling for an adjective to establish mood, followed by the tempo (“Sadly: Adagio,“ “Joyfully: Vivace“). The Hungarian accent is more persistent here, discernible, often subtly, in all twenty pieces. (No. 25 piques my curiosity. It is called “In the style of Károly Fátyol,“ whose dates— obviously added by an editor, since he died after Mosonyi—are given as “1830-1888.“ I suspect he may have been a Gypsy musician. Can any of the readership enlighten me?)

As in Mikrokosmos, the early numbers, intended for beginners, tend to bore grown-ups (and children, too, for that matter). As more demands are placed upon the executant (from around No. 8 on) the listener's ear begins to prick up, and by the end of the series one is genuinely impressed by the melodic distinction, the clean, almost Poulenic-ish line, and the surprisingly modern approach of these pieces. There is not a trace of Romantic sensibility or bloat in them. Virtuosity for its own sake is eschewed throughout, in favor of a deep Hungarian expressivity. But Mosonyi know how to ignite the fireworks when he want to—as in No. 16, where the fingers fly in true Lisztian manner, and in the concluding study, a splendid and subtle Hungarian Rhapsody. Piano teachers, even if they are not Hungarian, would do well to introduce this toothsome set of études to their pupils.

István Kassai, thirty-five years of age, won first prize in the International Debussy Piano Competition around a decade ago. He plays Mosonyi like the aristocrat of the keyboard he obviously is. Engineer Endre Radany achieve a vividly lifelike reproduction of Kassai's touch and tone.

-- David Johnson, FANFARE [11/1994] Read less

Works on This Recording

Hungarian children's world by Mihály Mosonyi
Performer:  István Kassai (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1859; Hungary 
Studies for development in the performance of Hungarian music by Mihály Mosonyi
Performer:  István Kassai (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1860; Hungary 

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