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.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa