Jo Ann Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra play Kodály

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Ask anyone who likes classical music to name a Hungarian composer, and they will pause, think, and then say: “Bartok?” Past that one-name test, ask the same individual to name another Hungarian composer. This time the response will come slower. Give a hint: “Variations on …” No response.

Of course we are talking about the prolific Zoltán Kodály, who has just been given a terrific musical salute by the peripatetic Jo Ann Falletta and her Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra via a new Naxos release.

Comparisons are most often odious, so we’ll refrain from making one in this review. Bartók is Bartók and he is indispensable, and not one season goes by that we don’t get a performance of his Concerto for Orchestra on the radio or in our local concert hall. But Kodály also has a Concerto for Orchestra (which I have to confess to never having heard it), and his Dances of Galánta, Dances of Marosszék, and his Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song, all three provide over an hour of delightful listening in this new CD. And thanks to Naxos and to the Buffalo Philarmonic for reminding us all of the many musical riches of Magyarország.

Very much like his fellow Hungarians Béla Bartók and Ernő Dohnányi, Zoltán Kodály was also a nationalist who championed Hungarian folk music as a source of inspiration. But Kodály is an inexhaustible melodist, a late Romantic at heart, though not averse to using some very new for the time sonorities in his orchestration and many inventive harmonic ideas.

Jo Ann Falletta leads the Buffalo musicians magisterially, mining every moment for color and keeping a tight control of the sudden rhythmic twists and turns and syncopations that give this music a uniquely dance-like feel and gypsy-inflected flavor. The musicians do extraordinary playing, with principal clarinet, Patti Dilutis eliciting sounds out of her instrument uncannily similar to those of the Hungarian tárogató. The entire ensemble in fact plays like a dream, reminding us living in the fly-over Midwest that there’s also great music-making happening in the northern reaches of New York State.

Naxos has us accustomed to nothing but the best, and here the top notch engineering (Tim Handley), classy packaging, and well written notes (Edward Yadzinski) once again live up to our expectations.

Rafael de Acha

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