Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Julius Beliczay, Composer and Railroad Man

This disc was originally released by the Hungarian State Railroad in 1995 and for good reason. It marked the 150th anniversary of the service, and the recording was by the railroad's own orchestra.

Yes, the Budapest Concerto Orchestra MÁV is an arm of the state railroad. And the choice of composer for this special release makes sense as well.

In addition to being a composer and teacher, Julius Beliczay was also a railroad engineer. Despite his day job, Beliczay was one of the most prominent composers in Hungary in the late 1800s.

Beliczay's First Symphony premiered in 1888. Beliczay was an admirer of Wagner and Bruckner, but this work leans more towards Brahms. Beliczay's orchestrations are well-crafted if a little conservative. In many ways, it reminded me of Dvorak's first symphony, in that it never colors outside the lines. But within those lines, Beliczay's written an attractive work.

I particularly like the slow movement, which spins out a simple and beautiful melody. It's here that the Hungarian folk influence is strongest.

The companion piece shows has an even stronger nationalist flavor. The 1875 Serenade is more relaxed, with some clear borrowings from Hungarian folk music. At no time, though, does it go as far as Brahms' Hungarian Rhapsodies. Beliczay's style is mostly cosmopolitan. There are some interesting chord progressions toward the end, though, that hint of Wagner.

Beliczay is cited as paving the way for the next generation of Eastern European composers, such as Antonin Dvorak. And that also is fitting. Dvorak was an avid trainspotter.

I found these works well-written and appealing. Even if you're not a train buff, there's plenty of reasons to give Beliczay an audition.

Julius Beliczay 
Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 45 Serenade in D minor, Op. 16
Budapest Concert Orchestra MÁV; Tamál Gál, conductor

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