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Hyperion Records

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In the Park (2008) by Márta Mártonfi-Benke (b1958)
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67999
Recording details: February 2013
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Jeremy Hayes
Engineered by Ben Connellan
Release date: February 2014
Total duration: 41 minutes 18 seconds

'Kodály’s two string quartets tend to linger under the shadow of the mighty ‘six pack’ that his compatriot Bartók wrote over a period of some 30 years … but they deserve more attention than they’ve so far received … the two shorter works make for attractive makeweights … as to rival versions of the quartets, the gutsy Kontra Quartet (BIS) offer fine readings of both quartets but suffer from an excessively resonant recording; the Kodály Quartet (Hungaroton) are relatively underpowered, especially in the first movement of the First Quartet. Which makes this new album a secure recommendation for both works' (Gramophone) » More

'Kodály's music is invariably approachable, it is welcoming without avoiding complexity … the passion of the opening of String Quartet No 1 sets the tone, but this alternates with an almost neo-classical quality. Folksong shadows much of the work, but does not drive it … superbly played and recorded, these readings are of the highest order' (BBC Music Magazine) » More

'The Dante Quartet give us a glimpse of Kodály's rapid stylistic development in these crisply defined performances. The charming Intermezzo from 1905 shows the influence of Vienna still apparent in the young composer, but by 1908 he was finding his true voice with the pungent, folk song-inspired first quartet, played here with unapologetic vigour by the Dantes. Quartet No 2 combines the pentatonic influence of Debussy with more than a dash of Magyar pepper, the Dantes bringing the tumult of the finale to a gloriously rumbustious close.' (The Observer)

'The delicate, wistful Gavotte joins a similarly beguiling Intermezzo for string trio between Zoltán Kodály’s two string quartets, tougher nuts than either of the two miniatures and stylistically fascinating. Kodály’s studies in Paris in the early 20th century clearly rubbed off in certain similarities that the First Quartet betrays to the milieu of Debussy and Ravel, but it is Gallicism with a Hungarian accent. The Dante Quartet responds both subtly and animatedly to this piquant, passionate music, as it does in the Second Quartet, alert to its mix of astringency and lyricism' (The Daily Telegraph) » More

String Quartet No 1, Op 2
1908/9; in C minor; first performed by the Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet on 17 March 1910

Presto  [4'05]
Allegro  [12'27]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The attention-grabbing opening (Andante poco rubato) to the String Quartet No 1 in C minor, Op 2, written between 1908 and 1909, led by the cello, leads to a highly discursive and intense Allegro. Although the thematic material is original, Kodály quickly noticed a resemblance to a folksong that he had collected:

So I subsequently placed the folksong as a kind of password at the beginning of the movement […] but the work itself did not originate from the song and I did not set to work with the intention of treating the folksong in sonata form, for I knew at the very outset that this is impossible.

Instead Kodály uses the material as the work’s thematic core, in a manner not dissimilar to the motto in Debussy’s 1893 String Quartet (albeit less self-evident). Kodály had visited Paris in 1907, where he studied briefly with Widor, and both Debussy’s work and Ravel’s 1903 tribute Quartet doubtless influenced the structure and sound-world of Kodály’s work. The thematic material in the first movement is shared equally between the players, though one often snatches it from another, creating a spirited sense of confrontation. This is emphasized by the spinning of individual motifs into repetitive Janácek-like ostinato figures. The intensity abates at the beginning of the second movement (Lento assai, tranquillo), though folksong clearly influences the harmonic language here, generating moments of searing intensity before they too recede. That sense of ebb and flow is particularly evident in the fugue. A pizzicato section offers a more jocular though no less contrapuntal response and then moves back to the original subject.

The Presto begins as a dance, though it too has a more sophisticated edge, with highly variegated harmonies and a melancholic trio. Counterpoint returns at the opening of the finale, as does the plangent cello, before a courtly common-time dance is treated to a sequence of variations. Closer at first to Viennese models than the Gallic style of Debussy and Ravel or the peppery tones of Kodály’s native Hungary, the variations nonetheless become more outlandish, with a final cadence that accentuates C major with a goodly dose of local colour.

from notes by Gavin Plumley © 2014

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