Élet és Irodalom: The Masters Collection: János Ferencsik


Ferencsik for beginners and advanced learners

Hungaroton launched a new series a few months ago called The Masters Collection. In these publications the company collects the “…iconic recordings of some of the most renowned artists of Hungaroton. The album features records which define an œuvre, a specific era…” this is how the editors summarise the basic principles on the cover. Three albums have appeared so far all containing three CDs. Music of about three and a half hours is already long enough to give an impression of a performer’s career even if it ranks among the greatest, and most complex. And indeed, it seems like this series really captures the greatest oeuvres: the first of the three boxes published to date offers a selection of pianist and composer György Cziffra’s Hungarian recordings, the second re-publishes some memorable records by the Tátrai string quartet, and the most recent one to be presented in this article paints a portrait of conductor János Ferencsik. An album forming part of The Masters Collection series serves the purpose partly of helping those who had a chance to hear the selected performer recall their art, but given that these great characters are long gone another possible function at least as important as the first is that new generations may use these anthologies to become familiar with exceptional artists whom they only knew through other people’s accounts.

János Ferencsik (1907–1984) was really one of the greatest ones: a musician whose personality, and work hallmarks a long period. His musical character became fully established between the two World Wars: it was no coincidence that Ferencsik, just 33 years old conducted the Capital City Orchestra (Székesfővárosi Zenekar) at the Music Academy on 8 October 1940 at Béla Bartók’s and Ditta Pásztory’s farewell concert shortly before their emigration. A student of the National Institute of Music (Nemzeti Zenede) he had learnt composition from Antal Fleischer, conducting, orchestration, and reading orchestral scores from László Lajtha, but unlike many others he never attended the Budapest Music Academy, moreover, not any other music academy. He had no time for that as at the age of twenty he was invited to the Opera House as tutor, and it was not long before he started working in European music workshops like Bayreuth, Salzburg, and Vienna. After 1945, and even earlier he had the opportunity of building his career in the West like some of his countrymen, but he always chose Hungary. He became a musician of significant clout, one of the key personalities of Hungarian music life including the areas of both opera and concert. That also had its downside: many accused him of being a rigorous, but liberal musical personality relying more on the inspirational situation of the concert rather than on the meticulous work needed at the rehearsals, and that claim was not unfounded. He was said to cause the stagnation of standards experienced in the 70s in Hungarian orchestral culture calling for characters like Iván Fischer, and Zoltán Kocsis to kickstart Hungarian musical thinking in 1983 by founding the Budapest Festival Orchestra.

Compiling the Ferencsik album of The Masters Collection was surely no risk-free undertaking as the conductor also has drab, unimpressive recordings. This anthology, however, tries to shed the most favourable light on his profile, even at the cost of including pieces not always free of risk. The first CD starts with Beethoven’s 5th symphony. One could even expect to hear out-of-date romantic interpretations not exempt from excesses, but, instead, a pure, and clear performance follows a disciplined concept, which overwhelms the listener. Similar favourable features apply to Schubert’s 8th (Unfinished) symphony. Here, too, Ferencsik’s performance is characterized by balance, and a good sense of proportion, and also by richness of colour, and poetry along with the mysteriousness of early romanticism. Inserted between the two symphonies is a concerto by a third Vienna composer: Mozart’s Horn concerto in E flat major (K. 447) featuring Ádám Friedrich as soloist is fully light, frolicsome, and natural; an interpretation not invalidated by historic performances of past decades.

The second record provides a taste of Ferencsik’s interpretations of Bartók and Kodály (Dance suite, Cantata profana, Háry-suite, Marosszéki dances). The conductor’ Bartók is sharp, powerful, his Kodály is rich in colour, and full of temperament. The third CD includes Erkel’s Festival Overture, selections of Bánk Bán, and the Palotás dance from the opera Hunyadi László highlighting Ferencsik’s decisive relationship with Erkel’s music; Liszt’s Les Préludes is a sign of his affinity for the great romantic symphonic works of the 19th century, and Delibes (Tschardash), Johann Strauss the Younger (The Blue Danube Waltz), and Berlioz (Rákóczi march) represent his elegance in interpreting popular genres in an effective manner. So the selection, besides proving that Ferencsik’s art stands the test of time, it also shows his high standards, his modernness, and gives the audience a flavor of his multifaceted talent, his flexibility, and his commitment to Hungarian music; in the works involving also soloists the selection places music in the context of contemporary Hungarian performing art with the contribution of musicians like Karola Ágai, Erzsébet Komlóssy, József Réti, József Simándy, András Faragó, and Ádám Friedrich (see above). It is important to add that recordings are not only by the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, but also by the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra, so the publication appropriately represents Ferencsik’s relationship with both of the major orchestras of his mature, great artistic periods.

Kristóf Csengery

Source: Élet és Irodalom

Buy on iTunes