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Mátyás SEIBER: Chamber Works and Songs

One picks up the same breadth of style and development trail here as in the more recent Seiber string quartets on Delphian (see review). We move from ethnic melodic tonality to dissonance with a lyrical core.

Seiber catches the romantic Finzian tones inherent in the Sarabande and Gigue in Old Style. David Frühwirth (violin) and Zsusza Kollár (piano) are utterly captivating in their hold on leisurely tension. We already know Frühwirth from the masterly emigré double album on Avie which also includes pieces by Wellesz, Spinner, Goldschmidt, Gellhorn, Tauský, Gál, Reizenstein and Rankl. Them comes the masterly song-cycle To Poetry with tranced settings sung with preternatural attention to breath control and engagement with the words. Lesley-Jane Rogers is indeed a great singer. Timor Mortuis, with its Dies irae is acted and moulded to words and mood changes. The pianist’s and the singer’s jaguar-swift mercurial responsiveness provides a tight match with the words. This cycle celebrates the stilly beauty of the stars. It contrasts with the lighter and brighter troubadour tone of Quatre chansons populaires françaises. These are sung by Andrea Mélath. They stand with Canteloube’s Auvergne settings in their winsome innocence and raucous and rough-edged humour - listen to the last song Marguerite elle est malade. These songs have delights indeed but they stand away from the depths of To Poetry which, had there been any justice, Seiber would have orchestrated to yet more magical effect. It was written for Peter Pears whose reputation also possesses a similarly anthology-based work by Britten, the Serenade. The Phantasy for cello and piano is a macabre and dissonant piece seemingly much inflected by nightmare. It demands much from the players who in this case are equal to its extraordinary angular demands. The Four Greek Folksongs take us back to the silvery voice of Ms Rogers. A Mediterranean magic casts its chuckling spell over Have pity on me. The set reminded me of the Swann Greek Folk Songs sequence on Divine Art. The Sonata da Camera is for violin and cello (1925). It’s a combination in which Kodály triumphed but Seiber is not far behind. For a work of his youngest years it has a concentrated inward sobriety and a macabre chittering second movement - of two. The Concert Piece for violin and piano. The Introduction and Allegro for Cello and Accordion is jaunty and lighter in mood and makes full use of the crunching Hungarian and oddly Irish jiggery of it all. It is a virtuoso display as one may expect from a composer who wrote quite a range of accordion pieces including a Mathis method of teaching accordion in ten sessions. It has the same mood profile as film music (Auiric for example) and I thought it utterly brilliant. The disc ends with the Five Petofi Songs which set Hungarian texts the first of which, Black Earth, in its heroic cast recalled for me Kodaly’s Psalmus Hungaricus. The goblin caper that is It’s raining raining makes marble hard impacts out of the pattering raindrops. It’s full of the Hungarian ‘sway’ we associate with Rozsa. The third and fifth songs recall the manner of the French Folk Songs but also link with those of Warlock and Moeran. Enjoy the smile in Andrea Mélath’s voice.

The much needed notes are by Tamas Varkonyi who is more than equal to the task. The texts are printed in sung words and in translation into English throughout. The page layout is eccentric but it works.

This disc stands shoulder to shoulder with the Delphian CD of the three string quartets in offering the foundation for a vigorous Seiber revival. I do hope that my sanguine expectations of seeing recordings of the Ulysses cantata for tenor solo, choir and orchestra (1947; 45 mins; Schott), Three Fragments from the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (20mins?; Schott), the Fantasia Concertante for violin and string orchestra (1943), the Elegy for viola and small orchestra (1954; 8 mins - once recorded by Cecil Aronowitz for Decca), Tre Pezzi for cello and orchestra (1957; 20 mins; Schott) and the Improvisations for Jazz Band and Orchestra (with John Dankworth) (1959) which was, once upon a time, recorded with the Dankworth band, the LPO and conductor Hugo Rignold. There’s also the Violin Sonata (1960) which has already been recorded by Frühwirth on Avie. Who knows, perhaps Chandos would consider a film music volume dedicated to Seiber’s work for the British cinema industry.

Rob Barnett


MusicWeb International
April 2010

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