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Hungarian Serenade
Sándor VERESS (1907-1992)
Szatmári Táncok [2:30]
Somogyi Táncok [3:30]
Sonatine for Violin and Cello [8:47]
Géza FRID (1904-1989)
Trio ŕ cordes Op 1 (1926) [16:40]
Ferenc FARKAS (1905-2000)
Notturno Op 2 for String Trio (1927) [10:40]
László WEINER (1916-1944)
Serenade (1938) [15:17]
Rezsö KÓKAI (1906-1962)
Serenade for Violin, Viola and Violoncello (1956) [17:35]
Offenburg String Trio
rec. April 10 & July 10, 2019, Peter Kaiser Saal, Eschen, Lichtenstein
NAXOS 8.551406 [75:32]

Cellist Martin Merker’s rather succinct booklet notes are half in German, and half in a sometimes curiously translated English, in very small print. That may be because the Offenburg String Trio (Frank Schilli (violin), Rolf Schilli (viola), Martin Merker (cello)), well recorded here by Naxos, are German musicians. They have been making music together for 40 years, and their collaborative experience shows in these very fine performances.

Of Sándor Veress’s three works here, two are dances, fun and pleasant enough but rather akin to watered-down Bartok. Veress was appointed Kodály’s successor at the Franz Liszt Academy in 1943. He was Kodály’s pupil, and like his teacher left behind a great deal of choral music, but it was during his studies (c.1927-1928) when he composed his enjoyable Sonatine for Violin and Cello. The work is book-ended by two traditional dance movements but at its heart is a questioning and highly original Lento rubato.

The composers represented on this recording come from the post-Bartok/Kodály generation. They all struggled to have their voices heard: they were either considered “formalistic” in the Soviet era, or deemed by the Nazis to produce “degenerate art”. The later was especially likely if one was Jewish, like the ill-fated László Weiner who disappeared at the age of 28. He too had been a Kodály pupil, highly regarded even when he was very young. His three-movement Serenade is a pleasingly original work, sensitively scored for a string trio. The first movement starts slowly and moves into an Allegro. The middle movement, slightly longer, catches the imagination and is eloquent and thoughtful. There is a playful Allegro finale.

The long-lived Ferenc Farkas was one of the many musicians throughout Europe who went round collecting folk songs in the first decades of the twentieth century. And it is a good job they did, because the world was changing, especially in the remote, rural world where this music had lived. The Notturno for String Trio is imbued with catchy folk melodies and buoyant rhythms, and has some more reflective moments. It falls into two movements, an Andante, which builds in intensity, and a dance-like Allegretto.

The programme ends with another Serenade, the longest work on the disc. The composer is new to me. Rezsö Kókai was a pupil and later a teacher at the Budapest Academy. Little of his music has circulated outside his own land, except what I believe is a very fine Violin Concerto. Of all the works on his CD, this one seems to be the nearest to the melodies and harmonies of Kodály and Dohnányi, and it is none the worse for that. Both Allegro outer movements are mostly modal, and use grace notes in the melody line. The middle movement casts a slightly disturbed but pastoral spell. It is marked ‘Recitativo. Notturno e Canzone’. The work forms a successful synthesis between folk style influences and a late-romantic language.

There is a photograph of the rather mournful face of Géza Frid in the booklet. His Opus 1 Trio ŕ cordes was submitted to Kodály as an examination paper. The teacher, quite rightly highly impressed, described it as “ripe for publication”. Any notion that the string trio format is especially challenging did not affect Frid. This is a very fine work, especially for a student, and imbued with the spirit of national Hungarian melody and dance. The composer said he was “obsessed by Hungarian folklore”. The third and last movement, the longest, is subtitled ‘Allegro giocoso all’ ungherese’.

There is some fascinatingly attractive music here. Each of these composers deserves a wider audience, which one hopes this disc may begin to supply.

Gary Higginson



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