Kodaly: String Quartets Nos 1 & 2

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COMPOSERS: Kodaly
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Kodaly: String Quartets Nos 1 & 2
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 1 & 2; Intermezzo for string trio
PERFORMER: Dante Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67999

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Kodály may not have transformed 20th-century music in the manner of his friend Bartók, but his influence on the culture of his native Hungary was enormous. In his long life Kodály immeasurably enriched the understanding of folksong in his homeland, but also shaped, with his celebrated ‘method’, music education through singing; indeed, the Kodály method is now a world-wide phenomenon. And then there is the music. Invariably approachable, it is welcoming without avoiding complexity. A good example of this is his first String Quartet of 1909: the passion of its opening sets the tone, but this alternates with an almost neo-classical quality. Folksong shadows much of the work, but does not drive it. If at times there is a little too much by way of repetitive sequences, one of the great qualities of these compelling performances by the Dante Quartet is to play these down without robbing the music of impetus.

Their command of rhetoric in the musically somewhat more abstract Second Quartet of 1918 is as impressive as in the first. If anything, this work is more volatile. They pull off a neat balancing act in the middle movement, a combination of affective, recitative-like solo lines – at times startlingly reminiscent of Vaughan Williams – and more excitable scherzo material. The finale brings the whole to an enormously satisfying climax. Superbly played and recorded, these readings are of the highest order.

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Jan Smaczny