Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

American Record Guide, May 2008

I'll admit I approached this one with some misgivings: Michael Halasz after all has recorded the complete Liszt tone poems for Naxos, and I'm surprised they didn't have him do the Hungarian Rhapsodies too. But this was a pleasant surprise: these are expansive and often imaginatively phrased readings with great flair and bold splashes of color. That's evident most of all from 2, where Fagen—like Scherchen, Mehta, and Ivan Fischer—employs Liszt's (or Doppler's) rarely heard original version, opening with a trumpet solo that imparts a striking "Spanish" character rather than the full string scoring familiar from most other recordings (that's Matthey's doing). There's also an extended violin solo and prominent wind flourishes you won't hear with Dorati or Fiedler.

No.3 here effectively becomes a concerto for the cymbalom, a pungent paprikash flavor that combines effectively with Fagen's indulgent lingering over the ripely swelling strings. Another soulful and expressive solo for the violin colors 4, opening with the stentorian horns and later summoning a jaunty and rakish Allegro zingarese culminating in an exhilarating close with full brass and a bass drum worthy of Telarc. Liszt titled 5 Heroide Elegiaque, but Hagen will have none of it, impassioned and free-wheeling with impressive playing by the Weimar low strings including a deeply felt cello solo. The final Carnival in Pest is good-humored and easy-going (including another stand-out violin solo) with a hearty swagger at the close and a big, bold brass cohort. Only 1 raises questions with the heavily dotted rhythm of the main theme at its climax (l :49) that results in a slurred effect. I also hear it from Ivan Fischer on Philips, who emphasizes the folk elements of these pieces, with gypsy-style fiddling—he even adds the cymbalom to the other rhapsodies as well. That's still a favorite of our Editor (Mar/Apr 1999)—and with good reason—though I find from his review that he's far less fond of the Dorati than I am.

Sound is warm and detailed, and the notes by Keith Anderson shed an interesting light on Liszt's "Hungarian" credentials. It's good to have such a satisfying account of the Hungarian Rhapsodies from Liszt's own orchestra.

Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, January 2008

After almost 45 years of oblivion the present disc appeared on a “discs for review” list. I placed my bid, curious to see how I would react after all these years. It was with a certain amount of nostalgia but more a sense of joy and admiration for the melodies, often from Hungarian folklore, and their orchestral treatment. Originally they were composed for piano, 15 in all, and published in 1850. Towards the end of his life Liszt produced another four, but it was from the original 15 that he selected these six for orchestration. Franz Liszt’s part in this project has never been completely clarified. He stated in his will of 1860 that they were orchestrated by Franz Doppler and revised by Liszt, and he added a compliment to Doppler on the work. It is easy to understand why. The treatment is colourful, sometimes like Liszt’s own orchestral works – Liszt came rather late to writing for orchestra – with broad brush strokes and bright colours. The brass, especially the trumpets, are frequently exposed, but there are many examples of delicate scoring, such as in No. 4. This was dedicated to the great Joseph Joachim, and consequently includes a passage for solo violin, but the harp is also prominent in this piece.

Structurally they go from a slow introduction to a lively finale but within this frame there are many options, so there is scope for a great deal of variety. The success of these rhapsodies depends upon the conductor’s and the musicians’ ability to convey the rhythms, to find the right lilt and that special Hungarian tinge. Hans Swarowsky, possibly better known today as teacher to a number of great conductors – Abbado, Mehta and Sinopoli among them – was a prolific recorder, mostly on minor labels. Hungarian-born but active most of his life in Vienna, he had the right instinct for these rhapsodies – he also recorded Brahms’ Hungarian dances. Traditionally the Vienna orchestras have a lot of musicians with Hungarian ancestry, and my recollection of his recording is one of grace and strength in combination rhythmic abandon. Technically the recording was at best workmanlike with one-dimensional sound, rather congested at climaxes.

I don’t know if Arthur Fagen has any Hungarian connections – he was born and trained in New York. His Weimar orchestra may have the credentials of having had Liszt as their conductor between 1848 and 1861, but that was quite some time ago and hardly affects the present day players’ attitude to Liszt. They are however an excellent body of players and have made a number of highly regarded recordings in a wide field. Even though I can’t quite liberate myself from the impact of Swarowsky’s recording, I have very little reason to find fault with Fagen. With all six rhapsodies well played this is a good and cheap way of getting to know these entertaining works.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2007

The success that Franz Liszt enjoyed with the series of Hungarian Rhapsodies that he began composing for piano in 1839 prompted Franz Doppler to suggest that he should orchestrate six of them. How much the two then worked together on the scores is unclear, though it would have been a masterpiece of pastiche if Doppler had produced such an idiomatic Liszt sound by himself. At the time Liszt believed that the gypsy music he had collected was of true Hungarian origin, though it has since become clear it was the gypsy adaptation of contemporary art-music heard on their travels. Whatever their origin the Hungarian Dances have remained in the orchestral repertoire, Doppler having captured the mood of the era, the music sparkling with vitality in their dance rhythms, occasional paragraphs introducing a typical gypsy sadness. Though traditions are not as readily passed down as we like to believe, it is good to have the orchestra - the Staatskapelle Weimar - that Liszt directed at the time he was composing the Hungarian Rhapsodies. The trumpets have added a nice open and rustic quality to capture the gypsy element, the playing of the Weimar strings smooth, sophisticated and of outstanding tonal quality. I particularly enjoy the laid-back woodwind sound in this music, Arthur Fagen capturing the unhurried lilt of the music. Just being pernickety, there is one moment I wish the disc's editors had revisited, but otherwise the sound is outstanding.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group