Sándor Végh, Végh Quartet Végh And His Quartet (2CD)
“...Our consuming passion for music was stronger than any kind of personal or other conflict.”
Recordings by the Végh Quartet can be found on these CDs, and the double albums BMCCD262 Végh – The Chamber Musician and BMCCD263 Végh in his Mother Tongue, released at almost the same time as this release. In selecting them, the main intention was to make accessible as many works as possible previously unreleased in recordings by the Végh Quartet. But a similarly important aim was that the choice of pieces should reflect the simultaneous presence of traditions and modernity in Végh’s art.
Sándor Végh – violin
Sándor Zöldy – violin
György Janzer – viola
Pál Szabó – cello
About the album
Tracks on CD1 recorded by SRF (Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen)
Tracks on CD2 ℗ A Westdeutsche Rundfunk Cologne Production, 1952 & 1956; Licensed by WDR mediagroup GmbH
Recorded at SRF on 4 February, 1956 (1-4, CD1); 8 July, 1948 (5-8, CD1); 4 February, 1956 (9-11, CD1)
Recorded at WDR on 11 May, 1956 (1-3, CD2); 3-4 November, 1952 (4-7, CD2); 14 November, 1952 (8-13, CD2)
Artwork: László Huszár / Greenroom
Produced by László Gőz
Production editor: Dániel Lőwenberg
Project coordinator: György Wallner
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
Supported by the National Cultural Fund of Hungary
Jonathan Woolf - musicweb-international.com (en)
Jean-Michel Molkhou - Diapason - 5 diapasons (fr)
Fabienne Bouvet - Classica *** (fr)
Matti Komulainen - Hifimaailma (fi)
Victor Eskenasy - moldova.europalibera.org (ro)
Fittler Katalin - Gramofon (hu)
Komlós József JR - Kecskemét Online (hu)
Fittler Katalin - parlando.hu (hu)
Végh and his Quartet – CD1
Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op. 18 No. 4
Ernest Bloch: String Quartet No. 2
Samuel Barber: String Quartet, Op. 11
Végh and his Quartet – CD2
Arthur Honegger: String Quartet No. 2, H 103
Hanns Jelinek: String Quartet No. 2, Op. 13
Alban Berg: Lyrische Suite
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Violinist, chamber musician, conductor and teacher Sándor Végh, one of the most important musicians of the twentieth century, was born in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) on 17 May 1912.
At the age of twelve he was admitted to the Music Academy in Budapest where he was a pupil of Nándor Zsolt then Jenő Hubay, and studied chamber music with Leó Weiner and Imre Waldbauer. He also studied composition for a year with Zoltán Kodály. In 1929 he won the Reményi Prize, and in 1931 he graduated from the Music Academy, the same year he was awarded the Hubay Prize.
Sándor Végh left Hungary in 1946, to live in France, then later Switzerland and Germany, and in the final decades of his life he made his home in Salzburg in Austria. Végh played with the finest musicians of the century. He performed as a chamber partner to Ernő Dohnányi, Annie Fischer, Mieczysław Horszowski, Wilhelm Kempﬀ, Rudolf Serkin, and Yehudi Menuhin. For many years he played with Pablo Casals at the legendary cellist’s Prades Festival. In 1964 Végh founded his own chamber music festival in Cervo, Italy, which is still held to this day, and in which over the last fifty or so years many world-famous musicians have performed.
Throughout his life Végh attached particular importance to passing on his knowledge to the upcoming generations. From 1941 to 1946 he led violin classes at the Budapest Music Academy, then later at conservatoires in Basel, Freiburg, Düsseldorf and Salzburg, and gave many masterclasses all over the world. In 1972 in Prussia Cove, in Cornwall (south coast of England), he created the International Musicians’ Seminar, a masterclass which to this day faithfully retains Végh’s musical legacy.
At the age of nearly fifty, already a musician of great fame, the maestro created (probably in 1961) the Sándor Végh Chamber Orchestra, made up of his ex-pupils. In autumn 1961 the orchestra toured in Switzerland and Germany, performing in 1962 and 1963 in the Prades Festival, and in 1964 in Cervo. However, due to financial diﬃculties the orchestra was soon forced to discontinue its activity.
The determining factor in Végh’s becoming a conductor was his experience at the Marlboro Music Festival in the USA, where outstanding young musicians at the beginning of their careers played chamber music with famous musicians, and the participants also formed an occasional orchestra. Végh took part in the Marlboro Festival four times, from 1974 to 1977, and every year he led the orchestra, which in those years included musicians who later became world famous, such as Kim Kashkashian, Yo-Yo Ma, Mischa Maisky, and Shlomo Mintz.
In the last two decades of his life conducting became increasingly important for Sándor Végh. At the beginning of this period he was still performing as a violinist, until because of age-related joint problems he had to lay down the bow.
Végh led the Camerata Academica chamber orchestra from 1978 right until his death in 1997. With the joint work they put in over the following nigh two decades the orchestra flourished, and was ranked among the best in the world. A marked feature of the Camerata sound was that the strings were usually Végh’s students. This resulted in the creation of an even string sound and unity of style which was unique in its type. ‘For me the Camerata is an instrument, and the members feel every frisson of my soul. They give me a great deal of pleasure,’ said Végh in an interview.
Sándor Végh was not a conductor in the customary sense. In his hands, the Camerata was like a multiplied string quartet. He held a great many rehearsals, and put painstaking eﬀort into shaping the works.
The orchestra often started work before he arrived, but all he had to do was walk through the door, and the sound produced changed immediately. Members of the Camerata recount that Végh was incredibly inspiring for them; his aura was so strong that it was impossible to play diﬀerently to what he imagined and conveyed through his presence. Just a glance was enough, a facial expression, a gesture, a movement, and everything fell into place.
As well as the Camerata, from time to time Végh conducted other orchestras, including the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
In recognition of his art Végh was awarded many decorations and prizes, including the CBE (Honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, 1989), a French arts knighthood (Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 1989), and first class in the Austrian Order of Merit for Sciences and Arts (Österreichisches Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst I. Klasse, 1992). In Hungary he received the Order of the Star of the People’s Republic of Hungary decorated with the Golden Wreath (1987), the Pro Cultura Hungarica Prize (1995) and was made an honorary citizen of Budapest (1995). The Franz Liszt Music Academy made him an honorary teacher (1992), and the Végh Quartet was awarded the Béla Bartók–Ditta Pásztory Prize (1989)
Sándor Végh, the Quartet’s First Violin
From the very first Sándor Végh was particularly drawn to the genre of the string quartet, and he was barely twelve years old when he played the violin in an amateur string quartet then considered the best in his home town. This passion, partially thanks to his teachers, deepened as he studied at the Music Academy. Nándor Zsolt, Végh’s first violin teacher at the Music Academy, who also taught string quartet, had been a pupil of Hubay, and was the violist in the Hubay Quartet. Sándor Végh received string quartet tuition oﬃcially already from his second year at the academy, 1925. From 1928 his teacher was Imre Waldbauer, the first violin in the Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet, whom Végh remembered as ‘show[ing] the most beautiful quartet playing, the finest chamber music, with deep, healthy musical insight. ... My memory of Imre Waldbauer springs from the deepest recesses of my heart and my musicality. ... He has been with me throughout my life, in two respects: with his healthy musicality and with his keen intelligence, which was not pedantic, “know-all” behaviour, but an expression of what I too believe: that the intellect exists for us to complement our intuitive ideas. It is not enough to feel: I should know what I feel, and how I feel it. Waldbauer was graced with a splendid constellation of musicality, this expression of love of music, and this intellectual side of knowledge, and the suggestion that flowed from him, with which he expressed this, made an indelible impression on me.’
Sándor Végh had significant success even in the period to 1935, as a soloist and chamber musician he played in concerts in Hungary and abroad, but real recognition came with the New Hungarian Quartet. Ever since their years at the Music Academy, Sándor Végh and his best student friend Dénes Koromzay had been toying with the plan of starting a quartet, and finally in 1935 they founded their chamber ensemble with Vilmos Palotai and Péter Szervánszky, under the name ‘New Hungarian Quartet’. This name was chosen to express the kindred spirit that linked these young musicians to the Waldbauer-Kerpely quartet, which abroad used the name Hungarian Quartet. This was apparent in the programme for their debut concert: while the Waldbauer-Kerpely quartet had debuted with the world premieres of the first string quartets by Bartók and Kodály, the New Hungarian Quartet first appeared in public with the second quartets of Bartók and Kodály. Shortly afterwards, in January 1936, music-lovers could read the following review: ‘Sándor Végh, Péter Szervánszky, Dénes Koromzay and Vilmos Palotai are all individually virtuosos of their instruments, and there dwells in them all a sincere love of chamber music. It almost goes without saying that this results in an engrossing performance, which won its way into our hearts with the enchanting warmth of “home music” and the works in all their delicacy. Sándor Végh is a natural leader, and free of all ostentation, he directs the ensemble, both with the perfect smoothness and sensual radiance of his tone, and with his assured sense of style. Alongside him, Dénes Koromzay stands out with his rhythmic excellence and the beauty of his viola sound.’
For the Quartet then just starting out it was enormously helpful to have the opportunity to play with already acclaimed artists, such as Ernő Dohnányi, and Annie Fischer, who thus supported the ensemble with their popularity and reputation.
A significant part of the quartet’s repertoire comprised contemporary works, with a special place given to Bartók’s Fifth String Quartet, which was premiered by the New Hungarian Quartet in many European countries: in Vienna and Budapest in 1936, and later at the 14th Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Barcelona, with László Halmos now playing second violin. One defining event of Végh’s whole life was that Bartók accepted the quartet’s invitation and was present at the rehearsals. Perhaps this was also because he was not able to go to previous premieres of this work, so the New Hungarian Quartet provided him the first opportunity to hear it. The composer must certainly have been satisfied with the quartet’s playing, because after the first occasion he led their preparations for another ten whole days.
When the rehearsals were over Bartók expressed the delight he felt at the quartet’s work, assuring them of his satisfaction and giving them his blessing for the work’s premiere. The Hungarian premiere of the work was a huge success. ‘The audience applauded so intensely that although for six years previously Bartók had been disinclined to bow on the concert platform, he came out, albeit just once. That meant a lot, coming from him,’ recalls Dénes Koromzay.
In 1938 Végh left the New Hungarian Quartet, then in 1940 he founded a new string quartet, the Végh Quartet. The second violin was played by Sándor Zöldy, with György Janzer on the viola, and Pál Szabó on the cello. Janzer had been a contemporary of Végh’s at the Music Academy, and had studied violin with Gusztáv Szerémi, Oszkár Studer, and finally briefly with Ede Zathureczky. Sándor Zöldy and Pál Szabó had studied at the Academy nearly a decade later. Zöldy was a pupil of Ede Zathureczky’s, and gained his state artist’s certificate in 1939. Szabó studied with Jenő Kerpely, Adolf Schiﬀer, and Miklós Zsámboki, and graduated as a cello teacher in 1941.
After the group was founded there was a rehearsal period of over a year, and only following this did they appear before the public. Their debut concert was on 21 April 1942 in the Great Hall of the Budapest Music Academy, and was a resounding success. Next day on the pages of Pester Lloyd, the critic Dénes Bartha praised the outstanding playing of the new quartet: ‘One of the great events of the concert season! It is surprising indeed that a quartet should, the very first time it appears in public, provide such an amazingly perfect performance of chamber music. True, the leader of the quartet, Sándor Végh, has already had great success in many cities in Europe as the first violin of the “New Hungarian Quartet”, now unfortunately defunct. Yet we should consider it particularly fortuitous that after the disbanding of the said quartet, Végh should have managed to win over suitable partners to his chamber music ideals. We can safely say that what we heard from them was the best performance by far in Hungarian chamber music this season. In purity of style and the expressive enthusiasm of the performance they are definitely at the level of the revered Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet; in respect of the soft, balanced quartet sound they have the edge. A unified stylistic vision (obviously that of the extremely musical, stylistically well-versed lead violin) inspires all four musicians. None of them aims to come to the forefront as a soloist; their ensemble playing is marvelously balanced and accurate. ... Indeed, we did not know what to admire the more: the crystalline purity of the Mozart style, the profound sincerity of their Bartók interpretation, or the grand, spirited sweep of the Schubert quartet.’ On 21 January 1943 the Végh Quartet once more performed in the Great Hall of the Music Academy. This time Dénes Bartha wrote: ‘The Budapest public is apparently still not completely aware of what an internationally outstanding string quartet the Hungarian music scene has in the persons of Sándor Végh, Sándor Zöldy, György Janzer, and Pál Szabó. […] Only a few quartets are able to fuse a gracefulness resembling improvisation with the utmost precision of technique and an eminent understanding of tone. Knowing most contemporary chamber music ensembles we can venture the claim that in their Haydn and Mozart interpretations, the Végh Quartet ranks among the top in the world.’
Almost miraculously, all four members of the Végh Quartet survived the war. They entered the Geneva International Music Competition in 1946. At this celebrated event 526 musicians from 35 countries took part in the following categories: voice, piano, violin, cello, flute, oboe, and string quartet. The standing of the competition is apparent from the figures in the jury in diﬀerent categories, famous names such as Bernhard Paumgartner, Dinu Lipatti, Nikita Magaloﬀ, Jacques Thibaud, Eugene Bozza, Carl Schuricht, Paul Weingarten, and Ede Zathureczky. Those that made it to the final had to play Beethoven’s C major ‘Rasumovsky’ Quartet (Op. 59/3) and one piece of their own choice. The Végh Quartet chose Bartók’s String Quartet No. 5. The jury were unanimous in awarding the first prize of 2000 Swiss francs to the Végh Quartet; this victory set the Végh Quartet on their path to a global career. All outstanding musicians in their own right, Sándor Végh, Sándor Zöldy, György Janzer, and Pál Szabó played together for nigh on forty years, and all the while the quartet was at the cutting edge of the music world.
Sándor Végh and Contemporary Music
Right from his early student years, Sándor Végh showed great interest in contemporary music, and this attraction, curiosity, and commitment lasted all through his life. Not long before his death, he said: ‘I have always been a believer in modern music. We live in the present. We must face it, and we cannot retreat into the ivory tower. But this does not mean that the music of times past does not interest me. It has always been clear to me that one cannot be modern without thorough knowledge of the old. I have been true to this conviction of mine all my life long. I had the good fortune as a young man to absorb both: the music of Leó Weiner and Ernő Dohnányi, linked to the past, and the latest trends as represented by Bartók. I played Ravel his string quartet, I met Hindemith and Alban Berg.’ ‘After a while one comes to the view that music cannot be categorized as old, or modern. It all lives together, and it is timeless. The basis of my modernness is formed by Mozart just as much as Bartók.’
Recordings by the Végh Quartet can be found on these CDs, and the double albums BMC262 Végh – The Chamber Musician, and BMCCD263 Végh in his Mother Tongue, released at almost the same time as this release. In selecting them, the main intention was to make accessible as many works as possible previously unreleased in recordings by the Végh Quartet. But a similarly important aim was that the choice of pieces should reflect the simultaneous presence of traditions and modernity in Végh’s art. With this in mind, the discs feature the Beethoven C major ‘Rasumovsky’ Quartet with which the Végh Quartet won the Geneva International Music Competition, the C major String Quintet by Schubert (a composer whose works occupied Végh perhaps most intensely in the last period of his life), and the discs also contain works by Bartók and Kodály, which were defining experiences of his youth. Sándor Veress was a close friend of Végh, and the world premieres of several of his works were given by Sándor Végh; the historic recording of the Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra on the album BMCCD263 Végh in his Mother Tongue gives listeners the chance to share in the experience of the world premiere of the piece. The CDs contain works by other contemporary composers, including defining pieces of the 20th century, such as Berg’s Lyric Suite, and Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, but we also find rarely heard string quartets, thus demonstrating how varied the repertoire the Végh Quartet considered worthwhile recording.
Translated by Richard Robinson