Thomas Bogdan

Hungarian Folk Songs

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One of the most difficult areas of Béla Bartók's worklist are his songs, of which there are very many; they are significant, as one aspect of this very modern composer's late romantic heritage was his approach to melody, and this remained a constant as long as he lived. The songs, however, are written in the inaccessible language of Hungarian, and given their grounding in folk song, it is typical for native Hungarian singers to render them in a sobby, emotionally overextended manner, part Italian tradition and part the time-honored tradition of Magyar singing found yet as this is written in Hungarian cabarets and restaurants. Tenor Thomas Bogdan is a respected new music interpreter and academic who has done the groundwork to master the difficult Hungarian tongue; he sings the 25 selections on Centaur Records' Hungarian Folksongs by Bartók and Kodály in a light, lyric tenor with no fuss and no muss, though including some restrained emotional characterization in his delivery of the lyrics. The lyrics themselves -- an essential component in such a package -- are provided in encapsulated prose summary form, and as the booklet is only a six-sheet foldout, there's very little background on the compositions provided, though in this case the lyrics are more important, so one is grateful. Accompaniments are clear and direct in Bartók, but so spare as to be nearly nonexistent in Kodály, and Sato does a terrific job in negotiating what is largely negative space and not becoming impatient with such understated music. A fair amount of Bogdan's singing has an off-the-cuff quality, almost like Eric Bentley singing his own English translations of Bertolt Brecht's songs, but this casual way of delivering difficult music is part of what makes Centaur Records' Hungarian Folksongs by Bartók and Kodály personable, attractive, and way, way different from the usual in such literature. The recording, made at Bennington College in Vermont, could stand to be a little closer in perspective, but isn't so mired in reverberation that it is diffuse and distracting.

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