Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Zoltán Kocsis Schönberg, Varèse
Many hidden threads link the two compositions on this disc, despite the fact that they are apparently unrelated: one of them is a slightly megalomaniac farewell to great German romanticism, the other is a fine example of the new wave of experimentation that followed the Rite of Spring, and about which Stravinsky himself expressed his praise.
Conducted by Zoltán Kocsis
About the album
Recorded at the Ferenc Liszt Music Academy on 23/12/2001 (1) and at the Italian Cultural Institute, Budapest 11/01/2002 (2)
Recording producer: Katalin Durkó
Balance engineer: Péter Schlotthauer
Music Publisher: Universal Edition (1), Ricordi (2)
Cover art and design by Meral Yasar based on concept of Gábor Bachman
Portrait photo: István Huszti
Produced by László Gőz
The recording was sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the National Cultural Fund of Hungary
David Lewis - allMusic *** (en)
James H. North - Fanfare (en)
Lutz Lesle - Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (de)
Josep Pascual - CD Compact (es)
S.M.B. - Scherzo (es)
J.P. - Diverdi (es)
Jacek Hawryluk - Gazeta Wyborcza (pl)
Porrectus - Muzsika (hu)
Tóth Péter - Café Momus (hu)
Molnár Szabolcs - Gramofon **** (hu)
Retkes Attila - Magyar Hírlap (hu)
Zombori Tamás - Világgazdaság (hu)
Kiss Eszter Veronika - Magyar Nemzet (hu)
Many hidden threads link the two compositions on this disc, despite the fact that they are apparently unrelated: one of them is a slightly megalomaniac farewell to great German romanticism, the other is a fine example of the new wave of experimentation that followed the Rite of Spring, and about which Stravinsky himself expressed his praise. Schönberg and Varèse initially had some disagreements, but their later friendship proves the binding power of belief in the omnipotence of music, even in the case of the most important individuals.
Schönberg: Pelleas und Melisande, Op. 5
Claude Debussy worked for ten years to create a truly French drama from the Belgian poet, Maurice Maeterlinck’s dreamlike drama, Pelléas et Mélisande. It was this work that finally liberated composers from the influence of Richard Wagner (and particularly Tristan and Isolde). By an irony of fate, only a year after Debussy’s anti-Tristan premiere, a young man from Vienna, who had been working in Berlin from 1901 to 1903 – a certain Arnold Schönberg – completed his own score of Pelleas. Far from turning from Wagner, it seemed to follow the escape route Wagner himself had indicated. True, it was not opera, but rather wordless programme music which Wagner’s followers and supporters took to their hearts.
For Schönberg it was Richard Strauss’ essays in a genre bequeathed by Liszt that attracted him and which he considered modern. Schönberg was able to meet Strauss in Berlin. The older man recommended that he study the Maeterlinck piece.
At the beginning of the stage work, we see Golaud, lost in a forest, coming across a fairy-like girl on a river bank. Debussy’s folksong-like diatonic melody introduces the opera. Schönberg by contrast thought in terms of Wagnerian chromaticism. While in Debussy, Melisande’s first words falter with fear, in Schönberg she reacts with hysteria. Schönberg’s symphonic poem remains doggedly German. Just how Schönberg followed the Maeterlinck story is told by one of his most faithful pupils, Alban Berg, who wrote a detailed critique of the work. It transpires that Schönberg concentrates on only a few important moments from the drama. After the music of Golaud and Melisande’s forest meeting (the first sonata-like section) is over, the Pelleas motif is introduced as a subsidiary theme. The ensuing scherzo-type section bears the title “scene by a fountain in the park ” – at least, according to Berg. Melisande enters the court of King Arkel as Golaud’s wife, but from the first meeting, she develops feelings for Golaud’s younger brother. Neither of the lovers confess their feelings. At the fountain, all that happens is that Melisande removes her ring from her finger, and despite Pelleas’ warning, throws it playfully up – and forgets to catch it.
The next section is actually a slow movement – the music of irresistible love and of course, also of Golaud’s growing jealousy. Afterwards, another passage presents the musical picture of the underground reservoir. Golaud leads Pelleas here. He shows him the gaping depths – he can do nothing else. But Pelleas understands what he means. Schönberg here employs extremely novel instrumental effects: trombone glissandos that create a frightening atmosphere. The finale is fundamentally a kind of summary, and also the music of the unfolding tragedy. The jealous husband stabs Pelleas, Melisande, who is pregnant, dies from her pain, but the child is born. In Maeterlinck and Debussy, Arkel warns that the child has an unhappy life in store. Schönberg seems to be hinting as much in purely musical terms.
Edgard Varèse (1883-1965) wrote only a couple of hours’ worth of music in his lifetime and yet he exerted a remarkable influence on the direction of Twentieth Century music. He was born in France, and was close to the circle including Apollinaire, Cocteau and Satie. He was present at the 1912 Berlin premiere of Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and was well acquainted with Busoni’s New Music theories. In 1914, he conducted the premiere of Debussy’s suite from The Martyrdom of St Sebastian with the Czech Philharmonic. In 1915 he moved to the United States but frequently returned to Europe. He was also a close friend of the Dadaist movement (Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia) and published in the magazine 391. However, his was only a loose association. In America, he premiered works by Schönberg, Stravinsky, Webern, Ruggles and Cowell. His composition Amériques was written between 1918 and 1921. “America is the symbol of discoveries: a new world on the Earth, in the Sky and in human consciousness”, he wrote. In 1916, he wrote the following: “We have a pressing need for new instruments and this is something that musicians must work out seriously with the help of specialist experts in engineering and technology”.
translated by Nicholas Jenkins
Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra
The history of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra can be traced back to 1923, when the Budapest Metropolitan Orchestra was founded. The orchestra soon became a focal point in Budapest’s musical life. Following the Second World War, Ferenc Fricsay and László Somogyi became its principal conductors, and the orchestra also began to tour abroad. In the same period, nearly 40 concerts were given under the baton of Otto Klemperer, while Antal Doráti was another regular guest conductor.
In 1952 a new artistic era began when the orchestra, by then renamed the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra, found its ideal conductor in János Ferencsik. From the 1960s on, performances were enhanced by a growing number of visits by guest conductors, including Ernest Ansermet, Antal Doráti, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, Sir John Barbirolli, Leopold Stokowski, Claudio Abbado and Christoph von Dohnányi.
Eminent soloists also appeared with the orchestra. Among these musicians of world renown were Sviatoslav Richter, Yehudi Menuhin, Anja Silja, János Starker and Ruggiero Ricci, to name but a few.
Ferencsik’s death in 1984 marked the end of an era in the history of the orchestra. Three years later, the baton was passed to a worthy successor, Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi. Over the past few years the orchestra has received a great many invitations from abroad, and has given memorable concerts in places as far afield as Avery Fisher Hall in New York, Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Symphony Hall in Birmingham, Megaron Mousikos in Athens, and the Colmar Festival in France.
The year 1998 was another watershed: the orchestra – together with the Hungarian State Choir (now known as the Hungarian National Choir) – was proclaimed a fundamental national institution and its artistic management was reshuffled. Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi was promoted to the post of president-conductor while Péter Eötvös was appointed principal guest conductor in charge of fostering contemporary music. Since the autumn of 1997, Zoltán Kocsis has been general music director, and Kocsis invited Zsolt Hamar, one of the most talented of Hungary’s young conductors, to become principal resident conductor.
In early 2000, a grant from the Ministry of National Cultural Heritage stimulated an orchestral development unprecedented in the Hungarian arts, and this rejuvenation has already been reflected in performances. However, the true beneficiaries are the audiences of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, both in Hungary and abroad.
Born in Budapest in 1952, Zoltán Kocsis began to play the piano at the age of five. In 1963, he entered the Béla Bartók Music School, studying piano and composition and in 1968, entered the Ferenc Liszt Music Academy as a pupil of Pál Kadosa and Ferenc Rados. His international fame began at the age of eighteen when he won Hungarian Radio’s International Beethoven Competition, and a scintillating solo career rapidly unfolded. He was invited to perform all over Europe, in North and South America as well as the Far East. In 1977, he was invited by Sviatoslav Richter to perform at his festival in France, and the two pianists also gave duet recitals together.
He has performed with leading world orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the Royal Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Orchestra. He has been a regular guest at international festivals in Edinburgh, Paris, Tours, Lucerne, Salzburg, Prague and Menton, and worked with such conductors as Claudio Abbado, Christoph von Dohnányi, Edo de Waart, Charles Mackerras, Lovro von Matacic, Charles Dutoit, Herbert Blomstedt, Michael Tilson Thomas and Lorin Maazel.
In 1983, he co-founded the Budapest Festival Orchestra with Iván Fischer, and since 1987 has regularly conducted. He is also a recognised composer. He is deeply committed to contemporary music and has enjoyed a fruitful relationship with, amongst others, György Kurtág, giving world premieres of numerous Kurtág compositions, some of which are dedicated to him.
Zoltán Kocsis has recorded for Denon, Hungaroton, Nippon Columbia, Phonogram and Quintana, but is now an exclusive Philips Classics artist. He received an Edison prize for his recordings with Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra of the three Bartók concertos.
His Debussy recordings won the Gramophone prize as well as the “Instrumental Recording of the year” award.
In Autumn 1997, he became general music director of the National Philharmonic Orchestra (formerly the Hungarian State Orchestra). As a result, the orchestra’s repertoire has broadened considerably, and since his appointment, several works have been given their world premiere. In recent years, he has toured many European countries, the United States and Japan with the orchestra as both conductor and soloist, and enjoyed immense critical acclaim.