Classical Reissue Reviews

KODALY: Psalmus Hungaricus; BARTOK: Dance Suite – London Philharmonic Orch./ Janos Ferencsik (with the London Phil. Choir & tenor soloist in the Kodaly) – Everest/Countdown Media

Important 1923 works by both composers in excellent reissues from original 35mm film masters.

Published on November 7, 2013

KODALY: Psalmus Hungaricus; BARTOK: Dance Suite – London Philharmonic Orch./ Janos Ferencsik (with the London Philharmonic Choir and tenor soloist in the Kodaly) – Everest/Countdown Media SDBR 3022, c. 38’ ****:

The Psalmus Hungaricus was an important work for Kodaly in 1923 and it marked the turning-point in his international recognition beyond his renown as an ethnomusicologist and music educator. (I once took a workshop he led at Stanford on his choral techniques with children in Hungary—since they had no pianos.)  The choral work for tenor, chorus and orchestra was commissioned in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the unification of Buda and Pest.

The text of the Psalmus is based on Psalm 55: “Give ear to my prayer, oh God,” and it calls on God to address the tragic past and present problems of Hungary, drawing a parallel between King David’s sorrows and the suffering of the Magyars of Ottoman Hungary. No actual Hungarian folk songs are qouted, but Kodaly uses folklike pentatonic motifs and effects to make the music a national experience for Hungarians. It is considered one of the composer’s masterworks. The tenor is not credited on the reissue CD jewel box.

At the inaugural concert in 1923 it was performed along with Bartok’s lighter Dance Suite, and that is the second selection on this CD. However, the Suite does have a sort of diabolical quality about it, though it uses some of the folk dance rhythms which Bartok found during the years he researched native folk music, working with Kodaly and a cylinder phonograph. There are six sections, five dances followed by a Finale, and they are played without pause. Bartok’s biographer put quite a Halloweenish program to the work, saying the first sections suggests a dance of elves and gnomes, the second is a wild revel of the gnomes, the third shows the fiery spirit peasant nature bursting into flame, the fourth having “floating shades” whose “progress is incorporeal and bodiless.” The Finale is a summary of the preceding sections, which rises “to the force of a hurricane.”

Since writing the Copland Third Symphony review earlier, I have checked Amazon on the relative pricing of the Omega/Vanguard series of Everest reissues vs. these recent German reissues from the music licensing firm Countdown Media. While the Omega series sounds identical and usually has more music on each CD, they are priced at from $50 to as much as $95, while all of these new reissues are only $9 each. (Remember there are also some three-channel Omega/Vanguard SACDs; it’s a shame the three-channel 35mm film Everest originals are not being made available as part of this new reissue series of about 75 Everest titles. They originated the three-channel 35mm film recording process, which was later taken over by Mercury Living Presence.) HDTracks has either 96/24 or 192/24 hi-res stereo downloads of the Everest titles at its site.

—John Sunier

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