Apart from Miklós Kocsár's Repliche No. 2 (the first piece written for horn and cimbalom), composed in 1976, all the pieces on this album of Hungarian music for that ensemble were created between 2004 and 2008 for the artists who perform them here. Hornist Zoltán Varga and cimbalom player Agnes Szakály seem to have the market sewn up for works for their unusual ensemble. Each is an established virtuoso soloist, Varga as the principal horn of the Budapest Symphony, and Szakály has had over 15 cimbalom concertos and 80 chamber pieces composed for her. The instruments may not seem like the most natural complements of each other, but their unique combined sound -- the mellow warmth of the horn and the brittle twang of the cimbalom (similar to the American hammered dulcimer) -- has a unique appeal. The styles of the repertoire here range from the dryly academic, to Hungarian folk influenced, to wry post-modernism. Ilona Meskó's Adom burkolt címu…, besides most cleverly exploiting the timbral eccentricities of the duo, has an unpredictable sly wit that makes it immediately attractive. Béla Faragó's Zazen II manages to make the disparate instruments sound like an evitable pairing. Cimcor, by Miklós Sugár, makes use of extended techniques, but it also stands out for its lyrical expansiveness. Péter Tóth's Scirocco is a show-stopping perpetuum mobile.
Varga has a somewhat tight, vibrato-prone tone quality that tends to characterize Eastern European horn players, but he's flexible and expressive, and absolutely on top of the music's technical demands. Szakály's playing is phenomenally fluent, nothing short of astonishing the fleet, densely chromatic passagework of Kocsár's piece. Hungaroton's sound is warm, clear, and nicely ambient.