Dances from Hungary

A flavoursome mix of old favourites and attractive rarities played with relish

Author: 
Rob Cowan

Dances from Hungary

  • Háry János, Intermezzo
  • Hunyadi László, Czardas-Palotás
  • Bánk bán, Czardas
  • Symphonic Minutes (Szimfonikus percek), Rondo
  • Prinz Csonger und die Kobolde, Fairy Dance
  • Hungarian Sketches, Bear Dance
  • Hungarian Sketches, Swineherd's Dance
  • (2) Episodes from Lenau's Faust, Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke (Mephisto Waltz No. 1)
  • Ruralia hungarica, No. 2, Presto ma non tanto
  • Hungarian Folk Dances
  • Dance Suite

Nowadays there seems to be a very narrow division between ‘young’ and ‘youth’ orchestras, playing standards having rocketed since the war with some remarkable results. The Danubia Youth Symphony was founded just 11 years ago by the then-19-year-old Bartók Conservatory student Domonkos Héja, and they were subsequent winners of the title ‘National Youth Orchestra of Hungary’. The DSO have attracted a number of distinguished guest conductors, not least Zoltan Kocsis, Tamas Vásáry and Sir Neville Marriner, and their showing on this cleverly planned programme suggests just a notch or two below world class.

The most obvious rival is Iván Fischer’s older Budapest Festival Orchestra, where an easily discernible character has long bedded in and the style of playing is rather more individual than here. Héja’s band is more on a par with Rico Saccani’s Budapest Philharmonic; a spirited ensemble, unstintingly enthusiastic, fairly well drilled and keenly responsive to the call of the musical moment. I’d say that of the two conductors, Héja has the edge for refinement and textural clarity, Saccani for interpretative originality.

Rather than present a chronological sequence, Teldec (or maybe Héja) has opted for five ‘themed’ strands, ‘Dances Made in Hungary’ (music from Kodály’s Háry Janós and from Erkel’s operas), ‘Miniatures in Dance Form’ (Dohnányi, Weiner, Bartók), ‘A Programmatic Waltz’ (Liszt’s Mephisto), ‘Dances Exhibited’ (Dohnányi, Weiner) and the ‘The Apotheosis of Folk Dance’ (Bartók’s Dance Suite). Dohnányi is represented by the Presto from Ruralia Hungarica and a Smetana-like Rondo from his Symphonic Minutes, brilliant and busy, a sort of ‘Dance of the “serious” Comedians.’ Aside from the Dance Suite, which Héja conducts with an effective if someone generalised sense of colour, Bartók contributes two lively movements from his Hungarian Sketches.

It’s a nice listen, if rather ‘bitty’. The Kodály and Erkel pieces (a ‘Polotache’ and a ‘Czardás’) are done with gusto, and Liszt’s Waltz has enough vitality and imagination to make me want to hear Héja and his orchestra tackle some of the bigger tone poems. An all-Weiner CD might be an even better idea. With airy and immediate sound, ‘Dances from Hungary’ is an effective calling card for an orchestra with bags of potential. They have every reason to be proud.

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