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On record: Buffalo PO / Falletta – Kodály: Orchestral Works (Naxos)

Kodály Orchestral Works Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra / JoAnn Falletta

Kodály
Dances of Galánta (1933)
Concerto for Orchestra (1939-40)
Variations on a Hungarian Folksong, ‘The Peacock’ (1938-39)
Dances of Marosszek (1930)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

An exploration of the Hungarian composer’s colourful orchestral works from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and JoAnn Falletta, this disc includes established favourites (the Dances of Galánta and Peacock Variations), the underrated Dances of Marosszek and a relative rarity in the Concerto for Orchestra, completed for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1940.

What’s the music like?

Richly scored and full to bursting with good tunes. The Dances of Galánta, the composer’s home for seven years in his youth, are a brilliant curtain raiser. As Edward Yadzinski says in the booklet note they are ‘a travelogue of gipsy spirit’. The tunes are rich with melodic ornaments and move between quick, energetic dances and slow, seductive ones.

The Dances of Marosszek (a region of northern Romania) should be better known. Originally written for piano, they begin with a surging theme in the cellos that casts a spell on the piece, heavy on allure but with some lovely softer contrasts.

The Peacock Variations are great fun, Kodály taking a legendary folk song and casting it in different speeds, harmonies and instrumentation to demonstrate its versatility. At times he reduces the orchestration, and brings solo instruments to the fore – notably in Variation XI, where cor anglais and woodwind are set against soft strings.

The Concerto for Orchestra is much more than a virtuoso showpiece, bringing in different sections of the orchestra into the Hungarian folk world. Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra may be better known and more adventurous in its approach, but this is a fascinating alternative.

Does it all work?

Yes. This is extremely well performed, and the Buffalo string and winds are full of the flavour, if understandably not always getting to the heart of the folksy melodies. An interpretation from a ‘home’ orchestra almost always brings a higher level of authenticity when folk melodies are to the fore, but the Buffalo do still revel in the colour and tuneful abandon of these scores.

Is it recommended?

Yes. These may not be outright recommendations for each piece, perhaps, but they offer alternatives that show how well Kodály wrote for orchestra and how, in the Concerto for Orchestra, he could turn a potentially dutiful work commission into 20 minutes of fun.

You can head to the Naxos website for a podcast from conductor JoAnn Falletta on Kodály’s orchestral works ear this disc on Spotify here: