A new recording of a work as often recorded as the Concerto for Orchestra should offer something unusual, as well, and this disc does. Kossuth, a 20-minute symphonic poem, was the 22-year-old composer's first major orchestral composition. The conception owes much to Richard Strauss and the style to Liszt, but there are plenty of hints of material that show up in his mature works. The Village Scenes is a particularly exciting choral-orchestral expansion of a work originally for voices and piano, and the Concerto of course, is enormously popular.
Neither too nationalist nor too internationalist, this 1995 recording of Béla Bartók's two violin concertos featuring Thomas Zehetmair with Ivan Fischer leading the Budapest Festival Orchestra is just right. Austrian-born Zehetmair has a fabulous technique, a warm but focused tone, and lively sense of rhythm, all of which make him an ideal Bartók player. His interpretations are less about showing off then about digging in, and his performances are more about the music than they are about the musician. Hungarian conductor Fischer and his Hungarian orchestra are not only up for the music in a technical sense, they are also down with the music in an emotional sense, and their accompaniments ground Zehetmair's coolly flamboyant performances. Captured in white-hot sound that is almost too vivid for its own good, these performances deserve to stand among the finest ever recorded.
A countryman of Bela Bartók and a sometime teacher to both György Ligeti and György Kurtág, Sándor Veress emigrated to Switzerland from what was then part of Hungary in 1949. Settling in Bern, he collected various prizes and teaching posts while working in relative obscurity on who knows how many pieces–most of which have been unavailable. This collection is made up of a pithy trio of compositions dated 1938 (Six Csárdás), 1951 (Hommage à Paul Klee), and 1952 (Concerto for Piano, Strings, and Percussion), and they show what a deftly melodic force Veress was. He's thrilled by blustery string wafts, especially in the concerto, where the percussion adds drama and immediacy. But he also favors sweetly chipper string formations, which surprise the ear during the homage to Klee, especially given the dissonances fostered early on by the twin pianos. The closing piano miniatures of Six Csárdás are counterpoint-rich gems, played with sharp precision by András Schiff.
So what if Liszt spent most of his life in France and Germany and never learned to speak Hungarian? The music of the Magyars' fiery favorite son played by a hot-blooded local boy is an irresistible combination. Even the delightful Dohnanyi filler (variations on ''Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star'') doesn't really douse the flames. Put it in the CD player and let 'er rip! Just be sure to remove all flammable vestments first. (Entertainment Weekly)
Coupling the Hary Janos Suite with Kodaly ’ s two highly contrasted sets of Hungarian dances, urban and rural, is a time - honoured gambit, but Fischer has had the birght idea of adding some of the composer ’ s children ’ s choruses, and instrumental movements from the seldom - heard Hary Janos Singspiel that was the ultimate source for the perennially popular suite, in order to give a broader picture of Kodaly, both as musician and musical humorist. On the whole it works well: the Singspiel extracts are very slight, but the choruses are highly characteristic – and flawlessly sung by superbly disciplined childrens ’ choirs trained, inevitably, in the ‘ Kodaly Method ’. Nevertheless the three principal orchestral works remain the point for buying the disc, and these are very vivid, exciting interpretations. Fischer comes up against stiff competition in Antal Dorati ’ s classic 1973 recording of Hary and the dance - suites with the Philharmonia Hungarica. Dorati is ‘ straighter ’ in his readings of the pieces than Fischer, and the playing packs a tremendous punch: he also adds the Peacock Variations as coupling, and thus probably still remains the first choice.