Sándor Veress represents a high water mark in Hungary’s rich musical heritage. He belongs between the generations of Bartók and Kodály, his teachers, and of Ligeti and Kurtag, his pupils. He experienced both world wars and Hungary’s police state afterwards, emigrating to Switzerland at age 45. Veress also taught Heinz Holliger, who was responsible for this fine recording, a loving tribute to his teacher.
The Hommage à Paul Klee, the first of the three works on this disc, is nowhere near as grim as one might expect from someone escaping tyranny. It is a seven-movement work combining transcendent soundscapes with a frisky jazziness, presumably reflecting in music seven of Klee’s paintings. It has been adapted for ballet no doubt due to the both celestial and playful moods which Veress manages to invoke through his limpid musical lines. That said, its fifth movement, marked Allegretto (Stone Collection), is an exciting and rhythmic tour de force, with pizzicato strings adding infectious momentum to the rambunctious pianos. Similarly, the near-mystical reverie in the next-to-last movement – an Andante (Green in Green) – is followed by a tumultuous Vivo (Little Blue Devil) that charges in a headlong rush to close the Hommage.
Although neither in sonata form nor theme-and-variations structure, this Hommage à Paul Klee is a (two-) piano concerto in all but name. It convincingly blends tuneful folk forms within a near-austere aesthetic. Weightless although far from light, its ethereal transparency beautifully suits the simple yet evocative paintings that the Hommage seeks to mirror. Its shape as a suite of movements bears comparison in a number of intriguing ways to Frank Martin’s 1974 Polyptyque for violin and two small string orchestras. Claudio Veress, who runs a website for his father’s music, reports that the composer was a great admirer of Martin’s music. This work suggests that the sentiment may have been reciprocated.