Lajtha Symphonies 3 & 4: Darkness and Light

I somehow missed the original release of this László Lajtha series on Marco Polo. So I’m glad for another opportunity to discover this Hungarian composers’ music through the Naxos reissues.

Volume 3 continues the traversal through Lajtha’s symphonies with Nos. 3 and 4.

In 1947 Lajtha went to England to work on a British movie with Austro-Hungarian director Georg Hoellering. The production was T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. Lajtha reused much of the thematic material for his third symphony, completed in 1948.

The symphony retains much of the film’s (and original story’s) atmosphere. A solo clarinet opens the work with an elegiac theme. Gradually the orchestra enters with ominous foreboding, inexorably building towards the finale.

The fourth symphony, written three years later, has an entirely different character. Titled “Spring,” this is a light-hearted work that’s full of energy. Lajtha was an ethnomusicologist as well as a composer. Folk elements abound in this work, coming to the fore in the last movement.

Also included is Lajtha’s music for a 1943 ballet. Lajtha reworked the music into his Suite No. 2 for orchestra. The ballet lampooned fascist dictators, and that sharp humor comes through in Lajtha’s suite. The angular music reminds me somewhat of Janacek crossed with Prokofiev.

Nicolás Pasquet and the Pécs Symphony Orchestra have a lock on this material. The ensemble has an expansive sound that gives Lajtha’s music real emotional weight. Glad I didn’t miss these recordings the second time around.

László Lajtha: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3
Symphony No. 4, “Spring”, Op. 52; Suite, No. 2, Op. 38; Symphony No. 3, Op. 45
Pécs Symphony Orchestra; Nicolás Pasquet, conductor
Naxos 8.573646

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