Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV / Mariusz Smolij

Eugene Zádor: The Plains of Hungary

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Naxos has released several albums of music by the Hungarian composer Eugene Zádor (or Jenö Zádor), who fled Hungary in 1939 and landed in Hollywood. He wrote numerous film scores, mostly uncredited because, he said, it gave him the money to write the music he wanted to write. Zádor was a student of Max Reger's, and it may seem at first as though the style of the student is even more conservative than that of his already conservative teacher. But this is misleading: the music here, from the last part of Zádor's life, is subtle in its treatment of Hungarian folk influences and nonpareil in its orchestration. (Zádor himself said his operatic music lay halfway between La Traviata and Lulu, and that is closer to the mark for these orchestral pieces as well.) Most attractive are the two works for solo instrument and orchestra. The little two-movement Fantasia Hungarica, for the rare combination of double bass and orchestra, masterfully turns the double bass into one of a cast of characters, perhaps, in a little country tavern. Sample the second movement. The solo instrument in the Rhapsody for cimbalom and orchestra is likewise beautifully handled, with a variety of attacks and voices being given to this Hungarian folk instrument. The straight orchestral pieces are also strong; the Elegie -- "The Plains of Hungary" (1960) may remind you of how definitely you're listening to Hungarian music when you hear a cowboy film score, and the freeform Variations on a Merry Theme are nothing but fun. Perhaps the two bookend works on the program are less distinctive, but the Budapest Symphony Orchestra under Polish conductor Mariusz Smolij has done a great service by taking this music off the scrap heap of history and bringing it back to life.

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