WEINER Serenade. Five Divertimentos
I demand to know what Neeme Järvi has for breakfast! At 80 years old, with nearly 500 recordings under his belt, he is still voracious in his appetite for under-explored repertoire. Here, Järvi turns his attention to Leó Weiner, who was just four years younger than Béla Bartók – they shared the same composition teacher at the Liszt Academy – but whose music very much looked back towards the 19th century. If Brahms’s Hungarian Dances and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies are your cup of tea – they were among my earliest loves when discovering classical music as a teenager – then Weiner’s Five Divertimentos should prove a delight.
The first two divertimentos are scored for strings alone but Weiner’s best music comes in the three later ones (composed between 1949 and 1951), scored for full orchestra. Rather than Bartók and Kodály’s method of collecting folk songs, Weiner used manuscripts of old Hungarian dances as his sources; and if I describe the results as Bartók-lite, that’s not meant in a derogatory way. There is plenty of charm in Weiner’s treatment of this often infectious music, often delicately scored. Solo woodwinds of the excellent Estonian National Symphony Orchestra have plenty of opportunities to shine: oboe and clarinet skirling as bagpipes; a bassoon offering the punchline to the Shepherd’s Joke; flute leading a gentle csárdás; or oily clarinet weaving a seductive cadenza in the ‘Verbunk from Pereg’ in the Fifth Divertimento. There’s plenty of swagger to numbers such as the ‘Song of Ignác Gábor’ in the Fourth Divertimento, with punch to Chandos’s weighty sound. The ENSO under Järvi offer slightly more verve and character to their performances than the North Hungarian Symphony Orchestra on a 2006 Hungaraton recording.
The Serenade (from 1906) is another charmer, where Järvi keeps the dance rhythms buoyant. Undemanding material but well worth seeking out for an entertaining listen.