Kodaly: Hary Janos Suite (HQCD review)

Also, Dances of Galanta; arias from Hary Janos. Olga Szonyi, soprano; John Leach, cymbalom; Istvan Kertesz, London Symphony Orchestra. HDTT HQCD257.

Hungarian conductor Istvan Kertesz (1929-1973) produced a remarkable string of successful recordings in his brief career, mainly during the period between 1962 and his untimely death by drowning a decade later. His performances of Bartok, Brahms, Kodaly, Mozart, Schubert, and in particular the nine Dvorak symphonies, most of which he made with the Vienna Philharmonic and as Principal Conductor of the London Symphony, remain among the best in the catalogue. Here we have an example of his work with the music of fellow Hungarian Zoltan Kodaly, a recording remastered by HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers).

Kodaly (1882-1967) was still alive when Kertesz recorded the Hary Janos Suite and Dances of Galanta in 1964 for Decca Records, and the composer apparently enjoyed the conductor's performances of both pieces, especially the complete Hary Janos opera and the suite we have here. The folk opera Hary Janos (1926) tells of an old peasant soldier who returns to his village to spin yarns about his heroic exploits and fabulous adventures. Kodaly said he intended it to be a "mixture of realism and naivety, of comic humour and pathos." The public so enjoyed it that within the year Kodaly extracted a six-movement orchestral suite from it, which has become more popular today than the opera itself.

The six movements of the Suite bear the titles "Prelude: The Fairy Tale Begins," "Viennese Musical Clock," "Song," "The Battle and Defeat of Napoleon," "Intermezzo," and "Entrance of the Emperor and His Court." The titles are fairly self-explanatory, and Kertesz handles them with a deft touch, catching all of their whimsy and sweet sentiment. Moreover, the London Symphony Orchestra plays extraordinarily well, marking every turn of phrase with a radiant delight.

Under Kertesz, the "Prelude" begins with a sneeze (no, really) and progresses with vigor. The "Clock" displays an abundance of creative verve. The "Song," a lovely piece featuring key roles for various instruments including a cymbalom, is at first leisurely, wistful, gaining momentum in a dreamlike reverie.

"The Battle" segment was always the most demo-worthy part of the recording, largely because of Kertesz's enthusiasm for the subject matter and because of Decca's spectacular sonics. This one won't disappoint. In the "Intermezzo" that follows, Kertesz offers up a tensely effective dramatic contrast. It is also among the more easily recognizable music in the suite. Finally, Kertesz makes the "Emperor and his Court" as joyous and celebratory as any I've heard. It's a wonderfully infectious production.

The accompanying Dances of Galanta (1933) prove equally rewarding--glittering, incisive, lilting, sinewy, and resplendent by turns. Two final arias from the Hary Janos opera--"Poor am I still" and "Once I had a brood of chicks"--bring the album to a close.

This recording, which Decca made at Kingsway Hall in 1964, has always been something of a demonstration piece, and newly remastered by HDTT on an HQCD, it sounds better than ever. The stage is very wide and the sonics very dynamic. The range is enormous, with excellent air and depth to the acoustic. The midrange is impressively clear, if a tad forward and only on occasion a touch congested; the bass is more than adequate; the treble is well extended when necessary; and the separation of instruments is most lifelike. While the sound appears somewhat close up in the manner of much of Decca's work in the Sixties, it is not so close as to detract from the recording's overall realism.

As usual, the folks at HDTT make the music available in a variety of formats for a variety of pocketbooks, from Redbook CD's, 24/96 DVD's, and HQCD's to 24/96 and 24/192 (on select titles) Flac downloads for playback on high-end computer audio systems. For details, visit http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/storefront.php.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa