Zador: Five Contrasts; Children’s Symphony
Orchestra MAV/Mariusz Smolj
Total Time: 66:49
Most any fan of classic Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s has heard the work of Eugene Zador (1894-1977), though most
inadvertently. Zador was one of several Hungarians who left Europe to emigrate to America. His decision to focus on serious composition
after leaving the Leipzig Conservatory in 1928 interrupted Zador eventually found himself in Hollywood where his talents would be put to great use. Though there are several films in the 1940s where Zador provided underscores (most being “uncredited” to him) he would become the primary orchestrator for Miklos Rozsa. In fact, Rozsa made his hiring at M-G-M part
of his own contract when he was signed there in 1948. Zador would continue writing concert while fulfilling the rigorous orchestration schedule.
The works on this new Naxos release cover the broad arch of Zador’s concert works displaying a wide range of amazing color and melodic
inventiveness. The recording opens with Aria and Allegro for Strings and Brass. The piece was premiered in Los Angeles in 1967 and widely lauded. The opening
movement is a very Americana-like theme which then moves into a very dramatic second movement that is like a blend of Bartok-ian Neo-classicism and Rozsa’s
1950s scoring style. It will make for the first of several pleasant surprises, not the least is its somewhat jazzy final bars (as if Janacek and Gerswhin combined to write music). Effective and an instant audience pleaser, this work is certainly deserving a resurrection.
The most significant work on the release is a set of Five Contrasts for Orchestra (1963). No less than fellow compatriot Eugene Ormandy would premiere the work in Philadelphia.
Again, Zador’s Hollywood connection is certainly felt in the noir-ish “Introduction.” Though here one certainly can see some parallels in the stark harmony to Bartok.
The brilliant colors of the orchestra will be most striking to listeners throughout the work. “Autumn Pastorale” has a somewhat Asian quality with light scoring for harp and bells contrasting to darker wind colors and a florid flute line. It is an interesting mid-century work eschewing more atonal writing and emphasizing thematic material and intriguing dense harmonies. “Phantasy” is an interesting study in contrasts with angular melodic lines straight out of the darkest film noir era music. The Mahler-ian “Scherzo rustico” (with a bassoon duet that will have one thinking of the Concerto for Orchestra) is one of many examples of Zador’s superb handling of large orchestral writing in what is his very assured style.
One of Zador’s most popular pieces worldwide was A Children’s Symphony (premiered 1941). The brief four-movement work is cast with traditional formal considerations: sonata-allegro first movement, slightly slow second movement scherzo, and a more cyclical fourth movement recalling earlier music. The music is a strong
piece of its time with an accessible musical language, a heart-melting melody in its second movement and plenty of humor throughout. The childlike innocence, a variation on a
teasing childhood melody, is simply amazing to hear as it goes through a number of guises in the final movement, “The Farm.”
Most fascinating is how Zador’s style seems to have melded American orchestral music into his own distinct compositional approach in an at times quite Neo-romantic style.
The recording closes with two light concert pieces worthy of any “pops” concert. They belong to the period immediately after his arrival in New York City from Hungary in 1938. Both are in a way a reminiscence of his homeland which the titles (Hungarian Capriccio and Csardas Rhapsody) reveal. They are both interesting examples of 1930s orchestral writing.
Mariusz Smolij and the Budapest Symphony will be familiar artists to those fans who have acquired their excellent Rozsa recordings. Here they get to show off their ability to
shift from more traditional to more atonal music quite naturally capturing the many moods in this music. It is hard to fathom why these works have fallen to the wayside and perhaps this new Naxos release will help encourage other orchestras to program this music here in the states. The recording is very immediate and captures the performances in realistic sound. Easily recommended as one of the highlights of the year.
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