Orchestra of Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music, conducted by Albert Simon Schubert: Symphony No. 7 in C major “The Great” D. 944

BMCCD109 2005

In the 1950s Albert Simon appeared before the Hungarian public as a brilliant conductor of concerts and opera. As a young man he was more than promising: there appeared in Hungarian orchestral life a talent and a demand for high standards that foretold a great future.

László Dobszay

About the album

Live recording by the Hungarian Radio at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music, 4 March 1979
Recording producer: Sándor Balassa
Sound engineer: Péter Schlotthauer
Mastering: András Wilheim, János Győri

Cover / Art-Smart by GABMER, based on photos by Lenke Szilágyi

Produced by László Gőz
Executive producer: Tamás Bognár

This release was sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, the National Cultural Fund of Hungary and the Artisjus Music Foundation
This recording is the property of the Hungarian Radio P.L.C.


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Franz Schubert: Symphony No. 7 in C major 'The Great' D. 944

01 I. Andante – Allegro ma non troppo 14:04
02 II. Andante con moto 14:46
03 III. Scherzo. Allegro vivace 14:27
04 IV. Allegro vivace 12:35
Total time 55:52

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The archive recording presented here was made on 4th March 1979 in the concert hall of the Music Academy in Budapest. It is a live concert recording (with all the technical haphazardness that implies) in which the orchestra of the students of the Ferenc Liszt Music Academy is conducted by Albert Simon.

In the 1950s Albert Simon appeared before the Hungarian public as a brilliant conductor of concerts and opera. As a young man he was more than promising: there appeared in Hungarian orchestral life a talent and a demand for high standards that foretold a great future. Then right in the midst of his success, he simply decided to retire from public concert life. He felt that with the older, and sometimes jaded musicians in large orchestras, it was more difficult to realise his ideals; he wanted to work with young people to train a pliant orchestra. He worked with them under difficult circumstances, in a rather secluded studio; a whole generation of today’s orchestral musicians are almost without exception his students. He was as demanding of his colleagues as he was of himself. Those who were fortunate enough to work with him treasure instructive anecdotes, many lively memories of his sometimes almost unbearably tough rehearsals, the brilliant concerts which justified everything, and his humane tone. He did much in that decade to get contemporary music, which until then was hardly played, heard in a worthy manner in concerts.

When his good professional friend Dénes Kovács, the best-known Hungarian violinist of the time, became the rector of the Music Academy, he asked Albert Simon to undertake the training of the rising generation of orchestral players (1969). Years of tireless detailed work followed, with a great many individual and group lessons, with less spectacular results, hampered by discipline problems and sometimes an antagonistic atmosphere, but with time there were concerts at which the listeners were amazed by the sound of a quality not heard elsewhere. The public abroad were able to see his art in several concert tours; in 1978 he won the silver medal in the Karajan orchestra competition with his chamber orchestra. For three years he was a guest professor at the Paris Conservatoire. Although he sacrificed a regular conductor’s career for the training of new orchestral musicians, and thus conducted rarely in public, his few concerts remain an unforgettable memory (unfortunately only a few recordings exist) and proved that if he had wished, he would have had a place amongst the greatest in the world.

Many believed Albert Simon to be a “perfectionist” for whom nothing was good enough. This is mistaken. He was willing to overlook mediocrity if the music-making was basically on the right track. He was happy, in fact often happier, to work with instrumentalists of average talent, than with those proclaimed as stars, because the former often showed greater receptivity than soloists who are full of themselves. He saw orchestral playing as the peak of musicianship. He once said of somebody: “he didn't make it as an orchestral musician; perhaps he can work as a soloist”.

His ideal was not racing talent (though naturally he appreciated talent highly), but sober, solid, clear, articulate, sensitive playing of parts and in ensemble. When he was apparently “cruel” to one or two instrumentalists, he was actually seeking (at any price) a way to shake the player out of their unsympathetic or arrogant behaviour, and move them into the modest, humble state of mind, in which one wills all one’s strength to music, and without which it is impossible to follow the path of music actively, or to transmit its beauty with an elaborate palette of technique.

He was an exceptionally talented and highly cultured heir and representative of the great Central European tradition, which he had learned from the greatest of musicians. He had teachers such as Leó Weiner, Constantin Silvestri, George Georgescu, and closely watched the rehearsals of conductors like Erich Kleiber, Otto Klemperer (at whose invitation he spent several months in London), studying the work of excellent instrumentalists and chamber ensembles (studying as he demanded of others: not “generally” but scrutinizing them, down to the finest details). With the formal and sound ideal that he had formed (and not in theory but as sound), he sought out the work of the Staatskapelle in Dresden, observing the secret of the great German orchestra for weeks, or analysing hundreds of recordings with a critical ear. He was able to express precisely what he heard in all of them. But expressing it counted for little in his view; only live perception, the fast reaction in music. He stored all this experience as living sound-prints in his aural memory, and integrated it into his own artistic imagination.

He accorded the score infinite respect, but he also knew that it is only sign language. He often spoke of the relationship between “notation and action” – of how the composer could in the score give only an imperfect picture of what lived in him, but that could still be read with certainty from the score. He quoted the saying from Mozart: “The musician should play what is in the score, but as if he had written it himself”. He was especially exacting and had a fine sense of the purity, translucency of the body of sound, the role of musical time in giving form, the natural placing of articulating stresses, living instrumental sound, proportion, and orchestral transparency. “Accurate”, he said appreciatively of a musician whose work he liked, and he himself worked this way.

It is rooted in the deep truth of music that a demand for accuracy, clarity, and articulation does not make the performance pedantic, but more living. Musical material that appears in its own complete clarity will inspire the imagination, and delight the mood. Because the music-making of Albert Simon was anything but “dry”. A naďve onlooker might even have thought that his talent was manifest in dramatic passion, in keyed-up emotion. But this passion, this emotion, was never self-serving or mannered. He saw his task simply as the faithful, humble production of the musical material. But music is such that if this takes place, then it moves the listener with elemental power. He liked to speak about music (as someone who made music 12-14 hours a day could well do), and his aesthetic was related to this dichotomy: feeling is nothing – and feeling is everything. To love music is to love the notes, and to care for the notes is to put the love of music into practice.

Albert Simon really was (as the writer of a short biography put it) “the only great influential musician of the second half of the 20th century who taught the essence of music, collective music-making, to his students” and, let us add, presented the public with the results.

Finally, a late memory of the relationship between Schubert and Simon. He recounted, confidentially, that when he was eight – before the terrible things that would happen later – he heard some music on the radio that utterly delighted him by its implausible beauty. When his mother came into the room she saw the little boy listening to the beloved music while embracing the radio. The music was Schubert, and Simon’s uncertain memory of later years recalls it was the Symphony No. 7.

László Dobszay
translated by Richard Robinson

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