WORKS: Mazeppa; Mephisto Waltz No. 1; Theatre Overture; Háry János Suite
PERFORMER: New York PO/Kurt Masur
CATALOGUE NO: 9031-77547-2 DDD
A nice idea to bring together the work of two leading Hungarian composers from different eras. Indeed, the opening bars of Kodály’s Theatre Overture, following on from the last of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz, show their harmonic and colouristic languages to have had much in common.
Kodály’s substantial (15-minute) overture to his play with music Háry János contains vivid ideas wrapped up in his characteristic wit and fantasy, but Masur’s static performance doesn’t persuade me that its length is justified. The surefire suite itself goes better, the echt-Hungarian Intermezzo sounding brilliant and the ‘Entrance of the Emperor’ uproarious, though the depth of feeling in the Prelude is undercharged.
This sense of restraint militates too against the full impact of the heroics of Mazeppa, though Liszt’s earlier solo piano versions of the piece (based on the story of the Cossack nobleman’s terrifying ride tied to a runaway horse) better represent the theme of the individual surviving against all odds. The Mephisto Waltz is again too well-groomed for its context – Faust’s demon companion leading a rustic dance in a country inn – though the controlled playing of the New Yorkers allows every detail of the scoring to make its mark. George Hall