Orpheus concluded its subscription series at Carnegie Hall yesterday evening with a program of Hungarian music that featured some lesser known pieces by Kodály, Bartók and the famed violinist Joseph Joachim. I had never before heard any of them.
The first piece was Kodály's Hungarian Rondo. In the early twentieth century, Kodály and Bartók had together toured the Hungarian countryside with recording equipment with which they hoped to preserve the folk music of their native country. The results of this ethnographic endeavor can clearly be heard in the Rondo but not in any dry academic manner. The soldier's tune at its center is so upbeat that it's hard to imagine Kodály wrote it in 1918, the last year of World War I. None of the horror or carnage one associates with that period is discernible in this brief ten-minute piece..
Next was Bartók's Divertimento for Strings (1939). It was written just before Bartók fled Europe and the Nazis and thus marked the end of his association with his patron Paul Sacher who had commissioned not only this work but also the earlier masterwork Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. I found it interesting to compare the Divertimento with the Viola Concerto, written six years later, that I had heard performed the evening before by the Mannes Orchestra at Alice Tully. While the concerto was composed by a man preparing himself for death, the Divertimento was considerably more relaxed in manner though the title is still a misnomer. It may not be as intense as much of Bartók's oeuvre; but the work has too much depth, especially in the middle movement, to be taken lightly. Only in the pizzicato in the last movement is the piece playful as it engages in obvious parody.
It is somewhat misleading to think of Joachim as Hungarian. He was born in 1831 in what is today part of Austria and then moved at a very young age to Leipzig where he became a student of Mendelssohn under whose baton Joachim played the Beethoven Violin Concerto in 1844 in London while still only twelve years old. Afterwards, he remained in Germany where he became not only a virtuoso violinist but also collaborated with Brahms whose First Symphony he eventually conducted back in England. Joachim in fact premiered not only Brahms' Violin Concerto but helped revise Bruch's as well and then went on to premiere the revised version.
The Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor is subtitled In the Hungarian Style. So closely did it remind me of the Brahms and Bruch concertos that I found myself wondering if those composers had influenced Joachim or if it had been the other way around. As in the other two concertos, the work offered many opportunities for an accomplished violinist to show off his/her skills as a virtuoso. The soloist yesterday evening was Christian Tetzlaff whom I had last heard play the Ligeti Violin Concerto several years ago with Simon Rattle conducting the ACJW Ensemble. He made the most of his chance with this piece and performed it brilliantly as he transformed it into a showcase for his talent. Afterwards, he came back to perform an encore, another lively work in the "Hungarian style" whose title I unfortunately did not catch.