Mid-afternoon on Day 2 of Müpa’s packed weekend festival Orgona10, the pride of Hungary’s church musician-composers were showcased in a concert which was both a family event and a reflection of national musicmaking. Music from the past, present, with a borrowed choir and a definitely jazzy “blue” finale invested this 70-minute recital with interest and poignancy aplenty.

Zoltán Gárdonyi
Zoltán Gárdonyi
For us organists west of Vienna, the name Gárdonyi is primarily associated with a brilliant organ piece, an encore entitled Mozart Changes. Innocently beginning with the opening of the third movement from Mozart’s Piano Sonata in D major K576, the piece suddenly and delighfully plunges into realms unfathomed of blues chords and jazz rhythms. Its composer, Zsolt Gárdonyi, is at the centre of a musical dynasty whose output was revealed on Sunday afternoon as so much more than just a novelty item.

Zsolt Gárdonyi himself began the concert with a wistful organ piece by his father, the late Zoltán Gárdonyi, based on a hymn tune. Like many of his contemporaries, Zoltán was a practical composer, writing music useful for liturgies and parish musician, often using chorale melodies as a point of departure. The organ piece was followed by choral works also by Zoltan, admirably delivered by the excellent Cantabile Regensburg Chorus under their conductor Matthias Beckert. Ranging from rich Brahmsian language to lighter madrigalian texture, the choral compositions were enjoyed by performers and audience alike. Why did Müpa borrow a choir from Germany? The answer could lie in the tenancy of Zsolt as Professor of music at the University of Würzburg, in south Germany, yet not quite contiguous to Regensburg, some 200 kilometres away. The link, however tenuous, enabled a quality enjoyment of the major part of Zoltán and Zsolt’s output, which on the afternoon’s showing, appears to be mainly in the choral realm.

Daniel and Zsolt Gárdonyi
Daniel and Zsolt Gárdonyi

The contrast between Zoltán’s musical language and that of of Zsolt, his now-septuagenarian son, was perceptible but not jarring. We heard both a cappella and accompanied works by Zsolt in the second tranche of choral pieces, sung with conviction and sensitivity. Father and son share a love of line, melody and harmony; Zsolt introduces some elements of modernity (oh, to understand enough Hungarian to know what the sussurations of whispers actually mean in “Úr isten, te tarts meg minket”!) Accompaniments were neatly played by the next generation Gárdonyi organist, Zsolt’s son Daniel.

A poignant moment in the programme occurred when Daniel performed his grandfather’s Variations on Veni Creator Spiritus.  This significant addition to the organ repertory deserves further recognition, an interesting counterbalance to, say, Duruflé’s contribution on the same theme. Fluently if a little diffidently played, Daniel characterised the individual movements, especially the dotted slow treble melody in Variation 3, with care.

To finish the concert, Zsolt returned to the console to play three of his own compositions. Hommages to Liszt and Reger employed ciphers of names as well as imitative themes and harmonies. Hommage to Errol Garner, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson also employed capitals of names in ciphers, but threw caution to the winds and gave us more of the language we so loved in Mozart changes. Zsolt’s touch at the organ remains convincing and expressive, and boy, can he play the blues!