Zoltán Kodály – Dances of Galánta
Béla Bartók – Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras, conductor
Linn Records, 2015
Three works by two of the most representative Hungarian composers of the 20th century, Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók, form the programme of this fabulous recording with Sir Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The first work is Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, commissioned for the 80th anniversary of the Budapest Philharmonic Society (1933); the second is Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste, written for Paul Sacher and the Basle Chamber Orchestra in 1936; and finally Bartók’s Divertimento of 1939, composed for Sacher again and described as a cross between a Baroque concerto grosso and a concertino by Bartók himself.
The programme therefore includes works written in six years by two contemporary composers of the same geographical area, but their characters are completely different and divide the recording into a first, cheerful and folkloristic part and a second , far gloomier one.
Mackerras performs the Dances, the Music and the Divertimento magisterially and each of them is so fine to appear from time to time as the pivotal work of the album, the one which deserves an exclusive attention. This magnetism is consequence both of the extraordinary nerve of the conductor, which allows him to define wide and precise pictures where orchestral colours and inspiration mingle with admirable results, and of the excellent Scottish Chamber Orchestra and of its first rate members.
Dances of Galanta
The Dances of Galánta represents the Hungarian folklore. Mackerras seems enthusiast about them. He realizes one of the most colourful and joyous musical sketches of this wonderful work, starting with the quiet beginning and then with the new and livelier themes where the folk soul seems really to assert itself.
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste
The Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste is a completely different matter and it represents a state of anxiety. The orchestral forces comprise thirty four string players, reminding of Bartók’s assertion that thirty of them would have been enough for this work (but smaller in comparison with the orchestras we are used to hear). They are so powerfully and well employed, so that they are as effective as a greater ensemble, thanks also to the wonderful sound of the recording, allowing to enjoy virtually every detail. The Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste is a tense composition and Mackerras seems inclined to accentuate and – I would like to say – to exasperate its dark side. His overall purpose is to create a kind of suspense that has something gothic in it. Hear for example the first movement (Andante tranquillo), funereal and crepuscular, or the equally gloomy and nervous Adagio.
The Divertimento, despite its title seems to announce a change of mood, is the perfecting of the spirit of the previous work. Mackerras opens the first movement (Allegro non troppo) with deep tension, stressed by strings, which are sometimes so penetrating to be unbearable. The best movement is anyway the second (Molto adagio) as it appears as a descent into the abyss where the strings become an acute expression of distress. The third movement (Allegro assai), at last, is almost a frenzied flight from the disquiet of the Molto Adagio rather than a real overcoming of a difficult moment.
This is a wonderful Hungarian recording indeed. The three works are spectacularly performed by Charles Mackerras and by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Each of them deserve to be discovered and listened to over and over again for their fine rendition.