Csaba Klenyán (feat. Gábor Csalog, Ildikó Cs. Nagy) Dervish dance (Vajda, Láng, Sáry, Sári, Eötvös, Orbán)

BMCCD059 2002

Csaba Klenyán’s art calls to mind those great performers who make us feel, as we listen to them playing a piece, that we are witnessing the moment of its creation.

József Sári


Csaba Klenyán - clarinet
Gábor Csalog - piano (3)
Ildikó Cs. Nagy - piano (9-11)

About the album

Recorded at the Phoenix Studio, Hungary
Recording producer: András Wilheim
Balance engineer: János Bohus
Digital editing: Veronika Vincze

Cover and portrait photos: István Huszti
Design: Meral Yasar

Produced by László Gőz

The recording was sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, the National Cultural Fund of Hungary and the Soros Foundation Hungary


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3500 HUF 11 EUR

Gergely Vajda:

01 Lightshadow-trembling - Hommage á András Petőcz 6:04

István Láng:

02 Monodia 6:45

László Sáry:

03 Variazioni 7:31

József Sári: STATI, quattro tempi

04 I. 1:34
05 II. 1:34
06 III. 3:23
07 IV. 1:31

Péter Eötvös:

08 Dervish Dance 6:26

György Orbán: Sonata concertante

09 I. 6:15
10 II. 7:26
11 III. 9:29
Total time 57:58

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Magic wrought with sounds

It is easy to understand why composers from Stravinsky to Stockhausen have always been drawn to the clarinet, one of the most popular solo instruments of the 20th century. Due to its versatility, extensive dynamic and tonal range as well as its cat-like flexibility and agility, it lends itself particularly well to experimentation. If needs be, the clarinet will play the role of the clown/circus showman to perfection, but it is equally capable of expressing seductive sensuality. Csaba Klenyán, one of the most accomplished Hungarian clarinet players, owes his special place in the musical life of Hungary to the fact that his performance brings into full relief the virtues of his instrument. He stretches the limits of its dynamic tones to the extremes. His light-as-air pianissimos provide the listener with the unique experience of witnessing sound being born of silence. The sensitivity, flexibility, and versatility of his playing are unparalleled. But most important of all is that, listening to him play, his audience will focus on the music rather than on the technical aspects of the performance, as Klenyán’s infallible musicianship and natural instinct safeguard him from the kind of virtuosity that is an end in itself. The composer who entrusts his pieces to Klenyán’s care can be assured they are in good hands.

At first sight the compositions on this record seem a rather heterogeneous mixture. Three of them (the pieces by István Láng, László Sáry and József Sári) are the produce of the Hungarian avant-garde of the sixties and hence share some common traits despite the very different methods and style of their composers. The solo pieces composed three or four decades later by Gergely Vajda or Péter Eötvös naturally have little to do with this stylistic era. Chronologically speaking, the Sonata concertante of György Orbán which dates from the mid-eighties fits between these two groups, though in terms of stylistic execution it bridges several decades and reaches back to the beginning of the 20th century, to the art of Bartók and Kodály, or even Debussy and Gershwin, and through the “folk song” adaptation included in it, can be said to have roots in even earlier centuries. Strangely enough, despite these stylistic differences, there is nevertheless a homogeneity to this recording: stage-like effects, magic wrought with sounds, an atmosphere of spells, of enchantment alongside raucous jests appear to be recurrent motifs. Let the listener decide whether it is the “character” of the clarinet or the personality of the performer that is the key to the secret.

Gergely Vajda (*1973), is one of the most talented members of Hungary’s young generation of composers. Clarinetist, conductor, artistic consultant to a brass ensemble and music director of a Budapest theatre, Vajda is an exceptionally versatile musician who mastered the art of composition not at school but through practice. He has participated in the preparation and rehearsal of numerous contemporary pieces, including those of Péter Eötvös. His own works bear the imprint of the beneficial influence of his complex performer’s experience. Instead of a theoretical approach to composition, it is the creation of the sensual beauty of music that fascinates him; this is why he makes liberal use of variegated colours and unusual effects. Although he was only twenty at the time of its composition, his solo piece, Lightshadow-trembling (1993), bears witness to his superior knowledge of his instrument’s “soul” and innermost secrets. The motifs surfacing, then fade back into the range of the “inaudible” exploit the dynamic possibilities of the clarinet to its maximum. The counterpoints to these ethereal motifs are the sections labelled “wild” in the score, where the clarinet squeals stridently like a folk music instrument, the pipe or the reed-pipe. The fast-as-lightning figures often create the illusion of polyphony, and the playful gestures of recurrent passages evoke Till Eulenspiegel, the great jester. (Gergely Vajda dedicated this work to the poet András Petőcz, whose poems he used five years later in Non-figurative.) 

István Láng’s (*1933) career as a composer evolved from an affinity with the theatre. From 1957 to 1960 he taught at the Budapest School of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts, then from 1966 to 1984 he was the music director of the Budapest Puppet Theatre. He composed five operas and four ballets (rewriting the libretto of one of his operas 36 years later). His vocation for the theatre asserts itself in his instrumental chamber pieces as well, as the pictorial elements and motion-like gestures of his music attest. Typically, Monodia, dating from 1965, was intended to serve as a concert piece and a ballet accompaniment. Odd as it may seem, using an instrumental solo lasting no more than a few minutes as ballet music is not unprecedented in contemporary Hungarian music.

Choreographer Imre Eck, the innovative leader of the Ballet Company of Pécs and an outstanding representative of modern Hungarian ballet created several dance miniatures using instrumental chamber pieces by contemporary Hungarian composers (Szőllősy, Petrovics, Kurtág). Thus Monodia led a double life in the sixties: it was performed as often with choreography as without in concert halls (moreover, according to the original choreography, the solo clarinet provided musical material for six dancers). It is therefore not surprising that each section of the composition, every change in tempo, is potentially the vehicle of a miniature movement, character or scene. Lento is a special kind of “natal” music in which, starting out from a first pair of notes of central significance, a maniacally repeated second, the auditive space is gradually filled with all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. The second part extends the dodecaphonic tonal system into large-scale melodic gestures, which is segmented by unexpected snaps. The following section is a dialogue between two types of dynamic strata, two kinds of musical material, followed by a dramatic “clash” presenting hectic note-repetitions. The last two formal parts add playfulness and free, impromptu-like digressions to the devices used in the piece.

László Sáry (*1940) wrote Variazione per clarinetto e pianoforte in 1965, while a student of Endre Szervánszky at the Budapest Academy of Music. The composition provides interesting supplementary data to Bartók’s reception in Hungary. In the fifties, the great predecessor’s oeuvre underwent an ideological screening, then - as a reaction - largely servile Bartók imitations were composed for some time. It was only after these blind alleys that Hungarian composers reached the stage of processing Bartók’s oeuvre analytically, assimilating the method of composition distilled from it into their own works. To the best and the most progressive composers, Ernő Lendvai’s analyses of Bartók gave almost as much inspiration in this process as the music itself. This influence of Bartók is most obvious in György Ligeti’s Musica ricercata and Métamorphoses nocturnes (String Quartet No. 1), and in Péter Eötvös’s piano piece Cosmos. Sáry modelled the tonal world of his work on Bartók’s typical accords, symmetric interval patterns and the funnel- or fan-like expansion of the tonal space. In Sáry’s work, however, Bartók’s influence is paired with ingenious musical ideas perfectly fitted to the instrument and an outstanding character-creating capacity. In the introductory Adagio, the clarinet presents its tonal system gradually, while the Bartókian interval patterns played by the piano are transformed into melodic gestures. In the Allegro, the author develops the same material into a typical fast movement. Bartók’s impact is most obvious in the Rubato, the middle movement, a re-thinking of the great Hungarian master’s piano piece The night’s music. The contraposition of the minor seconds and the symmetrical treatment of the tonal system give the composition a crystal-like clarity. The “night’s music” section dominated by minor seconds frames a free, cadenza-like middle section. In the Allegro section, emphatically rhythmic in character, the musical process is enriched by the contrapuntal play of the clarinet and piano themes, and the piece is rounded off by the introductory Adagio and the varied, ornamented repeat of the cadenza-like part.

József Sári’s (*1935) Stati is also an early piece. A composition for solo clarinet dating from 1968, it marks that phase in the composer’s career when he had already assimilated the direct effects of both Bartók and the new Vienna school, and had begun to define his own musical language. Stati uses the dodecaphonic system freely, in a natural way. Its melodic construction is characterised by a pendular movement, a kind of oscillation. The clarinet part, treated with a virtuosity that is typical of the instrument itself, repeatedly returns to certain central notes, sweeping out from this centre to run through the entire tonal range available to the instrument. The title of the composition also refers to this pattern: frequent returns to the same notes whose environment is constantly changing. This oscillating movement creates an almost hidden two-voice structure. The character of each movement is strongly marked; improvisational freedom, an atmosphere of playfulness, of bantering, thoughts flitting unrestrainedly, spectacular virtuosity are all given place. In connection with these characters it may be of some interest to make mention here of a childhood experience that the composer considers decisive: a circus act during which musical clowns “spoke” to each other intelligibly, though without words, through their instruments. It is in this composition that Sári’s use of an important stylistic feature, asymmetry resulting from the alteration of unexpected dynamic stresses and pauses, manifests itself forcefully for the first time.

Péter Eötvös‘s (*1944) Dervish dance was written in 2001, derived from Triangel, the composer’s “action” piece for solo percussion and 27 instruments dating from 1993. As is frequently the case with Eötvös, stage action accompanies the instrumental solo in this instance also. The clarinettist begins to play with his back to the audience, and makes a turn of 180? between every line of the piece which consists of twelve lines altogether. It is this choreography that gives the piece its title, an allusion to ”spinning” dervishes. The lines are variations of each other: in the ascending melody, from line to line, a different interval alternates with the minor second (or the seventh chord), or, to put it simply, each line is constructed on a different model scale. The alteration of different rhythmic and sound-production patterns – for example, the customary blown sounds and the Flatterzunge – makes each line an individual, miniature character piece. This process is interrupted at the end of the ninth line, and the last three lines are a coda-like closing gesture, made memorable by three different methods of execution of a special effect. “In a whisper” – is the composer’s instruction in the score, and the performer has to play the agitatedly vibrating repeated notes while slowly turning away from the audience.

“In recent decades, we have been the victims of a fatal mistake. The avant-garde of the sixties is one of the unhappy periods of the modernism of the century, perhaps the unhappiest period of all. In my opinion, breaking away from tradition is gravitational nonsense.” These thoughts of György Orbán (*1947) are a true reflection of the philosophy shared by many members of his generation who have developed and use a post-modern musical language, and strive to create “neo-normal music” after decades that in their opinion represent a blind alley. Sonata concertante per clarinetto e pianoforte was composed in 1986–87, and the composer made minor amendments to it in 1992. The adjective “concertante” is fitting: the composition is characterised by an extraordinarily virtuoso treatment of the instrument, offering a demanding part not only for the clarinet, but also for the piano, in a way that evokes Liszt’s brilliant noting technique. The composer “rehabilitates” several traditional elements. Firstly, he reinstates the creation of a melody inspired by a folk song. The playful and energetic main theme of the first, Scherzo, movement of the sonata, superposed over a resounding piano accompaniment, is a full-blooded and inventive musical idea that would hardly be conceivable without Bartók’s music. The “story” of the second theme in the movement with its marked rapped rhythm introduced by the piano reminds us that motivic and thematic development is not an obsolete method if it is used with the talent and ingenuity that characterizes Orbán. The themes in question, placed into new harmonic environments every time, are charged with energy and give impetus to the entire movement. The composer has also included a “lyrical second theme”, the contrapuntal linking of the fugato and the different themes. The harmonic world at times recalls Kodály’s phrases modelled on Debussy, at another times flirts with jazz, providing a live illustration to Orbán’s conviction that “The musical native tongue is the sum total of all music that one hears and likes. We are a species on a mixed diet. This huge amount of material we listen to blends into a mixed salad, as it were, in us. If these linguistic elements concerned are properly integrated, and what I do is not simple epigonism, I have no doubt that the audience will understand my meaning as I conceive it.” The second movement (Ballata), presents the serious side of the same style, originating in different sources, including folk music. A four-line “ballad-melody”, not an original folk song but one invented by the composer, evokes a more ancient layer of Hungarian folk music. The off-tune phrases give the melody a special refraction, but the asymmetric pulsing, the rhythm and the melodic design make its folk music origins quite obvious. Orbán gives five variations of this pseudo-folk-song which – again in the spirit of Bartók and Kodály – comment and illustrate the ballad, giving it a tragic background. The clarinet takes up the melody for the first time in the first variation. In the second variation, the accompaniment, woven of trills, escalates into dramatic lament. After the third variation of a more restrained tone, the “folk” tune re-emerges in the passionate dialogue of the clarinet and the piano part, amidst ascending scale motifs. The fifth variation recalls the simplicity of the introduction of the theme, and the sobbing trill motifs descending to the lowest range of the instrument give the movement a tragic ending. While the folk themes of the Scherzo and the Ballata are obviously modelled on patterns of Hungarian folk music, the opening melody of the Finale is reminiscent of a tempestuous Balkan dance tune. The composer makes excellent use of the ostinato-like fast figures of the accompaniment in this movement as well. At the same time, the “ballad-melody” of the second movement as well as the opening theme of the first movement suddenly re-emerge, and Orbán creates a grandiose finale out of this parade of the key actors of the cyclic piece, the breath-taking virtuosity of his musical material and the cadenza of the clarinet.

Zoltán Farkas

Clarinettist Csaba Klenyán was born in 1969 at Vác, Hungary. He studied under Ede Szabó, János Maczák, Gábor Miháltz, József Balogh and Béla Kovács – from elementary level to the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music. His work and creed were strongly influenced by the art of György Kurtág, Péter Eötvös and Barnabás Dukay. He lays equal stress on the interpretation of contemporary music as on the rendering of classical and romantic pieces; his repertory includes about four hundred works. He is a founding member of the UMZE (New Hungarian Musical Society). He has performed in practically every European country, and won first place at several international competitions, in Arizona and Constanta among others. He won the Hungarian Copyright Agency’s Artisjus Award twice for his outstanding contemporary musical activity. He was awarded a Soros Foundation scholarship in 2002.

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