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Eugene ZÁDOR (1894-1977)
Dance Overture [7:32]
Fantasia Hungarica [11:03]
Elegie ‘The Plains of Hungary’ [9:32]
Rhapsody for Cimbalom and Orchestra [12:14]
Variations on a Merry Theme [22:20]
Rhapsody for Orchestra [14:59]
Zsolt Féjervári (double bass)
Kálmán Balogh, (cimbalom)
Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV/Marius Smolij
rec. 2015, Studio 22 of Hungarian National Radio, Budapest
NAXOS 8.573800 [77:51]

I was intrigued by the name of the orchestra on this CD, given as ‘The Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV. The booklet says that the orchestra was founded by the Hungarian Railway in 1945. A bit of research revealed that MÁV stands for Magyar Állam Vasutak which translates as ‘Hungarian State Railways’. This is amazing – it stretches my imagination to breaking point and beyond to conceive of British Rail establishing an orchestra in the UK.

Anyway, it sounds to be a very good band, and they play excellently for Mariusz Smolij on this CD of Hungarian orchestral music. Earlier Naxos CDs of Zádor’s music have been reviewed on MWI here and here .

These earlier reviews give full details of Zádor’s career, so I will not repeat it here, save to say that he had a job in Hollywood as the principal orchestrator of Miklós Rósza’s film scores. He also worked with Franz Waxman and Daniele Amphitheatrof. Rósza composed so many film scores that it was impossible for him to orchestrate them all, hence the hiring of others to do so.

I am quite pleased with this CD, and the piece I enjoy most (by far) is the Elegie ‘The Plains of Hungary’. It only lasts 9˝ minutes, but it is probably worth the modest price of this CD on its own. It could almost be called a symphonic poem for woodwind and strings, although brass and harp appear to a limited degree as well The recording captures the tones of different woodwind instruments beautifully, although I found myself thinking that they were a little too forwardly balanced when playing solo, or near solo. Ruminative and lyrical best describes it, and anyone who responds to Bartok’s early orchestral music, such as the first of the Orchestral Portraits Op.5 or the third of the Four Orchestral Pieces Op.12, will probably enjoy it. It also brings to mind the opening of Rósza’s impressive ‘Notturno Ungherese’, composed some four years later.

I wish that I could be as totally enthusiastic about the other works present here. As it is, I can greet all of them with fair enthusiasm except the ‘Variations on a Merry Theme’. Unfortunately, at 22 minutes, this is the longest piece on the CD, and I find it to be very ‘bitty’. In fact, the varied orchestration makes it almost a Concerto for Orchestra, but the jaunty theme itself is unmemorable and can’t really support the multifarious presentations it receives. Alas, Zádor didn’t have the genius of Rachmaninov in being able to manipulate a jaunty ‘tune’ into a masterpiece of the Variation form.

The Rhapsody for Cimbalom and Orchestra immediately follows the Elegie, and its opening is thematically and orchestrally so similar to the Elegie that at first, I thought that it was a continuation of it. That impression is soon dispelled when the unmistakable sounds of the cimbalom appear. I think that I have only previously encountered it in Kodály. On its first occurrence, the principal theme reminds me of ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’, and the cimbalom alternates between a leading and accompanying role in this lightly scored and quite attractive piece.

There is a very rare animal indeed on this disc – a Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra, called ‘Fantasia Hungarica’. I didn’t think that I had a recording of any such concerto by any composer, but my memory let me down – I have a CD of the BIS recording of Eduard Tubin’s Double Bass Concerto. The piece by Zádor has the instrument playing in its highest registers for much of the work’s length – it sounds like a cello. The composer said that he loved to cater for ‘underprivileged’ instruments, and he ensures that the double-bass can be heard whatever the remainder of the orchestra is doing. For example, there is a brief section in the second movement when the full orchestra is silenced and the double-bass accompanies in varied combinations, cellos, piccolo, tuba and violins.

The last piece on the disk is the Rhapsody for Orchestra, dating from one year later than the Elegie. I find it to be rather long for its material, which is melodically plain. The piece does not strike me as having any obvious thematic structure – there is little sign of a lead up to a climax, for example. I had hoped that being a successor to the Elegie, it might have shared some of the shorter work’s lyricism, but no.

All in all, this is a welcome disk, and I am pleased that I have had the chance to listen to it (several times). The recording is full and impactive, very well representing the vividness of the scoring.

Jim Westhead

Previous review: Brian Wilson


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