These six works are by a composer who is and was popular, significant and well-known in his homeland. Sadly, his music from an active, happy and fulfilled musical and personal life, remains a closed book to most of us in the West. I would have liked to have met him. His pupils included Ligeti and Kurtág and he taught and composed for over seventy years.
Farkas had a fondness for neo-classical forms and for folk rhythms. The first work on the disc, the Divertimento, shows these stylistic traits. In addition there is the strong influence of Respighi with whom Farkas studied whilst a student in Rome around 1928-9. The neo-classical is found in movement titles like the Minuet and Trio and the finale marked Rondo. Dance elements can heard throughout, especially in the ternary form second movement marked Allegro giocoso. This is almost percussive in its simple repeated phrases. The bustling opening Allegro leggiero perhaps reminds one of the opening movement of one of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances suites. It seems that Respighi the man, was always an influence and interest in Farkas’s creative life. Although it was Respighi’s idea to have the work premiered in Rome it was under Dohnányi’s direction in 1933 in Budapest that this took place when it was placed third in a competition.
The Concertino all’antico for cello and string orchestra is something unusual. It started life as a commission for a work for harpsichord and baryton gamba, an instrument which Haydn wrote for as Prince Esterhazy played it. Realising that it would never be played again unless re-arranged, Farkas did just that by adding a few new orchestral moments and reconstructing the solo part. Really it’s a neo-classical piece with an opening 6/8 movement marked Pastoral and a closing Giga. The middle Aria con variazione is not only classical in form but also rather expressive and romantic.
Another cello work from 1964 is the Trittico concertato for cello and strings. It is another neo-classically informed work. Its sonata-form opening movement and its rondo finale - brief, skittish and breezy - may occasionally remind you of Hindemith. The middle movement is a thoughtful but not melancholy passacaglia. The eleven repeated bass notes are derived from the surname of the cellist-commissioner Gaspar Cassadó. The music is pleasing and unpretentious.
The Suite Lavotta uses melodies by a violinist composer from the 18th Century named János Lavotta. It was originally conceived as incidental music for a radio play; music, you might say, of the Hungarian Baroque, re-clothed. There are five movements, including two very characteristic Hungarian Dances and a rather anomalous Minuet. The final Rondo however represents a rather bucolic ‘merrymaking in the Tavern’.
Maschera, the latest work recorded here, is a set of cameo miniatures: Masques - based on commedia dell’arte characters inspired by a book by Gino Severino which Farkas discovered as a student. To quote the composer, the five movements and personalities are a “pugnacious sea captain, a disgruntled old Pantelone, a flirtatious Columbina, Pulcinella and his poor family and the crafty Harlequin”. All this is a million miles away from Stravinsky’s Pulcinella of seventy years earlier. It is scored in this version for chamber orchestra but was originally for a wind trio who are to the fore in this attractive version.
It seems curious that having just escaped from a war, the last work on the CD — the March Suite for chamber orchestra of 1947 — should commemorate the centenary of a war. This was a time of political repression for Hungarians and although some artists were being criticised for not writing “for the people”, in all probability Farkas was composing lighter, un-complicated pieces simply because that is how his DNA, as it were, led him. Incidentally, only the outer movements are marches. Even then you can’t really march to their somewhat brisk counterpoint. The middle movement is a profound ‘Elegy’, the longest of the three.
It’s good to know that this disc is termed ‘Volume 1’, It is, in fact, a follow-up to an earlier recording of the complete Wind Quintets (Toccata TOCC0019) by Farkas. I look forward very much to the next instalment. If the performances and recordings are as good as this then we have quite a treat in store.