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László LAJTHA (1892-1963)
Orchestral Works - Volume 7
Capriccio (Puppet-show) - Suite de Ballet Op. 39 (1944) [77:00]
Pécs Symphony Orchestra / Nicolás Pasquet
rec. 1994, Ferenc Liszt Concert Hall, Pécs, Hungary
NAXOS 8.573649 [77:01]

This disc, previously released as Marco Polo 8.223668, contains a very extended version of a suite for Lajtha's highly-skilled, full-length ballet Capriccio. Surely only a few movements were omitted? The CD stands a little to one side of the Marco Polo/Naxos cycle of this Hungarian composer's symphonies so handsomely recorded in the 1990s. The other discs in that cycle are: Symphony 1: 8.573643 - review; Symphony 2: 8.573644 - review; Symphonies 3 and 4: 8.573645 - review; Symphonies 5 and 6: 8.573646 - review; Symphony 7:  8.573647 - review; Symphonies 8 and 9: 8.573648 - review.

Lajtha, a pupil of Vincent d’lndy, set about collecting folk music. In 1951 he was the recipient of the Kossuth Prize for his work on and in folk music. His studies at the academies and conservatories in Budapest, Leipzig and Geneva allowed him, until 1914, time to spend six months of each year in Paris. His international career as a composer began in 1929 with the award of the Coolidge Prize for his Third String Quartet. He is still little regarded or known by comparison with his countrymen Bartók, Kodály and to a degree Dohnányi.

At the time of this recording, after three and a half decades, Capriccio had still not been staged, as far as is known, nor had the choreography been completed. Of Lajtha’s three ballets, Lysistrata, The Grove of Four Gods and Capriccio, only the first was performed at the Budapest Opera House in 1937 and that for a mere four nights. Hungarian Radio recorded the complete score of Capriccio in 1987, 43 years after the work's composition. The Naxos sessions followed seven years later.

Lajtha's music parallels the experience of hearing the adapted ballets by Constant Lambert and the original ballets of Berners, Norman O'Neill (The Bluebird or Mary Rose), Poulenc (Les Biches) and Satie (Relâche and Mercure). It is a closer equivalent of Strauss's music for Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme rather than the super-heated Josephslegende.

Between 1948 and 1950, Lajtha wrote an "opera buffa", Le Chapeau bleu (The Blue Hat). In this he indulged his peculiarly strong affinity for the 1700s. Capriccio, like Le Chapeau bleu, has a scenario set during that era. We are told that the description of the scenarios indicates that the costumes and the architectural style should recall the age of Watteau. There are also references to the commedia dell’arte, with Arlequin, Colombine and Pantalon putting in appearances.

This music is soft of focus and rounded of edge. That it was written during the dismal depths of the Second World War is remarkable. Its 14 substantial movements as represented here are lively, not lifeless, fizzing rather than flat. The Ouverture patters along with intimations of "the theatre of the absurd" and it is not far removed from Kodály's Háry Janos. La marche du Capitain and Marche plutôt gracieuse pour un empereur de la lune are in the same wheezy and charming vein. Complainte et Arlequin consolateur is a sleepy delight; something of an idyll in a parkland - definitely not in a wilderness. The absurd strutting march that is Marche goguenarde makes playful use of the brass. The faintly exotic Isabelle, with its sheer textures and willowy themes, is without abrasion. A cooling calming breeze is felt in Menuet et Musette - La Leçon d'amour but the following Toccata, in hiccupping and stertorous terms, portrays a running game, always courtly and chivalrous. Pécs's redoubtable brass announce Rondeau et couplet which concludes amid sweet lineaments and floating melodic tendrils. Lajtha's penchant for things Gallic is felt in the Fauré-like gentle pastels of Rondeau et Couplet and Les Regrets. The Scherzo has a touch of Pulcinella about it but is neither as edgy nor as shark-skinned as Stravinsky. It's a touch but only a glancing blow, hardly a blow. The Finale gently sums up the atmosphere and runs to 5:36. Then again, all of these movements are of that sort of duration.

The recording makes capital use of a very lively acoustic. Its considerable virtues are most patently felt in the animated and quiet pizzicato of Sérénade de Mezzetin.

The notes, including a movement-by-movement synopsis by Emöke Solymosi Tari, are in English.

Rob Barnett

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