Hungary’s distinguished conductor Janos Ferencsik leads a diverse program “in living colors” from Royal Festival Hall.

by | Nov 4, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Egmont Overture, Op. 84; KODALY: Dances of Galanta; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op 68; BERLIOZ: Rakoczy March, Op. 24 – Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra/Janos Ferencsik

CNSTR CD5/2009, 71:10 [] ****:

The Royal Festival Hall concert of 26 February 1966 featured the maestro most associated with the Hungarian State Opera, Janos Ferencsik (1907-1984), leading a diverse ambitious program of color and poignancy. The Beethoven Egmont Overture after Goethe sets the tone of personal struggle and heroic liberation, the sentiment in Beethoven close to theme of his opera Fidelio. Lovely playing from the flute and assorted woodwinds over string tremolandi, the whirling motives assuming a inexorable, dramatic inertia as the music mounts to a volcanic urge to freedom. The coda quite bristles with excitement, the Hungarian State brass and tympani resonant, pointed, fiercely definitive.

Kodaly’s 1933 set of Dances of Galanta enjoys a thoroughly sympathetic reading from Ferencsik, the music moving between Magyar and gypsy folk idioms with sure suave colors and modal harmonies. The five dances form a kind of arch–a middle Grazioso balanced on both sides by two Allegro movements–or rondo, a common architecture in Debussy and Bartok. We hear in the woodwind figures, flute, and triangle an evocation or two from Johann Strauss, especially in The Gypsy Baron and the Csardas from Die Fledermaus. Ferencsik’s cellos seem to gain a particular driving, broad sonority. The huge orchestral tuttis impress us with their  singing intensity, a paean to regionalism in its best intrinsically vital sense. The latter pages give us pure Hungarian bravura, Liszt reborn, that zal only an idiomatic reading provides. The incredible inertia stops on a dime, sings, and then explodes off of the clarinet’s riffs for a frenzy of rustic energy.

In the Brahms First Symphony, we can hear what the influence of visits by Klemperer, Kleiber, and other conductors from the mainstream German tradition brought to Ferencsik’s looming conception of the work, almost a direct descendant of Beethoven’s Ninth. The heavy contrapuntal working-out of the main Allegro bears a crushing weight, and we are not far from a Furtwaengler reading, although Toscanini remained long a Ferencsik idol. The music moves with somber ferocity – the trumpets, cellos, and basses often heaving. Only at the final pages does the interior conflict resolve itself, the winds over the fateful drumbeats, and a huge sigh of resignation emerges from Ferencsik’s responsive orchestra. The E Major second movement receives relatively expansive treatment, Ferencsik’s indulging his luxuriant string line over punctuated horns. Lovely final pages, with solo violin, French horn and concerted strings in modal harmony.

A rather breezy approach marks the five-bar phraseology of the A-flat Allegretto movement, a lithe, youthful progression that swells beautifully in its trio, the horns and winds articulate and inspired. The orchestral imaging proves piquant, potent, even luminous in the oboe and pizzicato strings.  Ferencsik addresses the last movement with the requisite breadth, the “Alpine” element quite strong answered by shades of the Black Forest. The big theme proceeds without mannerism, ready to enter its maze of sonata-form transformations with confident resolution. The music moves with svelte swiftness, no maudlin indulgence, as though its contrapuntal excursions were the real meat of the program. Real fire bursts forth just before the pregnant caesura and the rolling chords from strings and tympani, the stretti in soft and hazy hues. Several of the harmonies in the extensive coda are made to anticipate colors in the Brahms Third Symphony; then we enter the true peroration of this grand design, and Ferenscsik can cut the rope and let the eagle soar.

Tumultuous applause deserve a tumultuous encore, and so the Rakoczy March from the Berlioz Le Damnation de Faust. We can easily imagine a parade of Hussars in review, or the spit and polish of brass choirs resounding on a Napoleonic spectacle. The Hungarian State Symphony tympanist makes his bid for stardom in the midst of crashing cymbals, wicked strings, a snare drum, and a slightly hysterical mob of Londoners who thought this concert a smashing success.

–Gary Lemco

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