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Zoltán Fekete (1909-1978)














Elisabeth Wysor














Zoltan Fekete - Image on the back of Supraphon SUA ST 50735

Zoltan Fekete
(Image taken from the cover of Supraphon SUA ST 50735)









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In 1950 producer Marcel Prawy asked Viennese conductor Bernard Paumgartner to make recordings for Remington and as a bait Prawy mentions the contract he has for making recordings with the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg which was eventually conducted by Joseph Messner. However, Prawy did not mention the name of Zoltan Fekete, the Hungarian conductor who conducted the Mozarteum on several occasions, but whose biography remained an obscurity at the time. Zoltán Fekete was not a specific Remington artist in the sense that Kurt Wöss, H. Arthur Brown, Joseph Messner, or later Thor Johnson was.


Information about Zoltán Fekete is scarce. Many an encyclopedias do not mention the man. Grove's did not have an entry on Fekete at the time. Only much later, in 1982, John L. Holmes published his invaluable Conductors on Record (Victor Collancz Ltd. London).

Liner notes on the LP releases often merely mentioned his name and only in two cases one or two facts which may allude to an existing biography. On the Remington cover of Bruckner's Symphony No. 3 on R-199-138 there are just a few lines which indicate that Zoltán Fekete came to the US, apparently just before World War II, and that he must have obtained American citizenship:

"(This) American-Hungarian conductor first penetrated the musical consciousness of New York through a series of concerts with the Midtown and New York City orchestras."

After World War II he returned to Vienna as Wanda C. Von Rudolph writes on the back of the cover of Colosseum CLPS 1012 with Suites of music by Georg Friedrich Handel arranged and conducted by Zoltán Fekete:

Zoltán Fekete to whom we are indebted for the suites presented here, conducted this performance with the Vienna State Symphony Orchestra. A Hungarian by birth his musical education includes study in the Budapest Academy of Music and in Vienna. Mr. Fekete has devoted a great deal of research to the final period of Handel's creations. In his arrangements he has kept faithfully to the original melodies and harmonies, transposing them into forms which are easily understandable today. Mr. Fekete is also a composer, one of his compositions on another Colosseum record is his "Caucasus Ballet Suite" (CLPS 1011). Other numbers conducted by him are : "Snow White Ballet Suite" (CLPS 1011), and the "Grand Duo Opus 140" arranged by Fritz Oeser as the "Gastein Symphony" (CLPS 1013) also Bartok's early work (1905) - First Orchestra Suite, opus 3 (CLPS 1010).

Zoltán Fekete is arranger of Mozart's Fantasy and of Suites by Handel. He conducted works by Bartók, Bruckner, Mahler and Tchaikovsky, and he is the composer of Caucasus Ballet Suite and Snow White Ballet Suite.
Fantasy portrait.

Zoltán Fekete was born on July 25th, 1909, in Budapest, Hungary. He studied with Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók in Budapest and later studied in Vienna. The recordings of Zoltán Fekete are not many. They have been released in various countries on different record labels. Reviewers were not always appreciative of his conducting. I suspect that the poor technique of most recordings led to this opining. Some of Fekete's performances show that he certainly had the needed authority to lead an orchestra in an inspiring way. He surely did not have the wish to build a career solely as a conductor forcing him to lead performances of an extensive repertory with many different styles.

Apparently Fekete was the man who preferred to appear from time to time in front of an orchestra, would arrange works from others and would compose orchestral scores of his own. How many works he wrote in total is not known. Also the exact date of his passing away is not found. But Teri Noel Towe told me that Fekete died in the late 1970s. He was living in Munich. His wife was Alma Hoehn, the legendary dealer in collectable 78 RPM shellac records and vinyl LPs. She died around 1988.

Zoltán Fekete's Remington recordings:

R-149-2 - Elisabeth Wysor in Contralto Arias: Mozart, Meyerbeer, Verdi, Wagner - The Vienna Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Zoltán Fekete. It was originally released by Don Gabor on Continental CLP 1002 in 1950 (Songs of the Great Masters). It also became available on Halo 50312 in 1957. Edward Tatnall Canby reviewed this disc in Saturday Review of November 1950.

"This is a very great voice, rich, with phenominal range, perfect control (like that of the great voices of the turn of the century); musicianship excellent, too, with impeccably accurate pitch. Wagner items "Tristan", "Rheingold" are most in style but unusual "Clemenza de Tito". Mozart is well done. Tone is bit monotonous, diction not too good. Orchestral backing weak. Decidedly a worthwhile record, at any price." - Edward Tatnall Canby, Saturday Review, November 1950,

R-149-25 - Mozart: Music To "Thamos, Koenig in Aegypten", Austrian Symphony Orchestra conducted by Zoltán Fekete, coupled with Finlandia (Sibelius) conducted by Kurt Wöss.

NOTE Fekete's name was apparently a convenience name as the conductor stated in a letter to Saturday Review that he never recorded "Thamos" for any record company.

R-199-2 - Mozart: Fantasia in F Minor KV 608 (arr. Fekete) - The Vienna Symphony Orchestra conducted by Zoltán Fekete, coupled with Symphony No. 1 (Schubert) conducted by Kurt Wöss.


Click here for a Sound Clip of a fragment from Tchaikovsky's Tempest.

R-199-55 - Tchaikovsky: Tempest (Symphonic Fantasia, Op. 18, The Storm) - Vienna Symphony Orchestra conducted by Zoltán Fekete, coupled with Le coq d'or (Rimsky-Korsakov) conducted by George Singer.
R-199-55 was first released in the winter of 1951/1952.

NOTE Donald Gabor supplied recordings to be transferred to tape by A-V Tape Libraries in New York. In Magnetic Film & Tape Recording, June 1955, Charles D. Sigsbee reviews OMEGATAPE 8006 containing Zoltan Fekete's Remington recording of The Tempest. It is not sure if that recording was submitted by Gabor.

This is the orchestra of Thomas Scherchen and apparently it is their nature to turn out good recordings. Dramatic music, such as this, requires a dramatic orchestra and the Vienna group is every bit of that.
As for the music, I can't say for sure. The first couple of hearings are impressive but wether or not the impression would last is a moot point. Perhaps it would pall soon like the Romeo and Juliet or 1812 Overture. For a beginner's library or a high fidelity collection it should be well-suited.
This tape required a considerable treble cut and slight bass boost to make it conform to the standards of the others.
Side one had a fairly noticeable residual noise level, while side two did not. Wether this is peculiar to the tape we had for review or was on the master used for this particular tape we do not know. - Charles D. Sigsbee, Magnetic Film & Tape Recording, June 1955

The recording was also released by Gabor on the Etude label (ref. 706; again coupled with Le coq d'or) but then Le coq d'or was attributed to Zoltan Fekete who protested about this in Saturday Review writing to the editor "Sir, I have never heard of this Etude company and wish to state categorically that I have no contract with them whatsoever." And he writes that he never in his life has conducted Selections from Thamos King of Egypt and has never recorded for any company Rimsky-Korsakov's "Le cocq d'or".

In April of 1955 the recording of The Tempest was issued in Great Britain on Concert Artist LPA 1022, but here coupled with Fekete's own composition 'Caucasus Ballet Suite'. The issue in England had nothing to do with Remington as Zoltan Fekete owned copyright on both sound recordings. Although a Concert Artist release, reviewer R.F. exactly described the Remington-like sound character and the quality of the performance of this recording in the April 1955 issue of (then) The Gramophone:

The performance is reasonably good, though lacking in precision of attack, but the balance of the instruments is not satisfactory. There is no mellowness about the string tone—and after all they are Viennese violins and cannot really sound like this. The microphone, presumably too close, is picking up too much from too few desks, and the result is edgy tone with some distortion on climaxes.
On the other side there is a piece by the conductor who is not known by Grove or any other book of reference that I can find. Readers will notice that he has been doing a lot of recording in Vienna lately. According to the sleeve he is a Hungarian who has lived in America since just before the war. Had I not been told, I would have guessed that his Caucasus was the work of a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov writing in the 1890's. It seems to me to be quite without merit. - Roger Fiske, The Gramophone, April, 1955

You may disagree somewhat - as I do - with the reviewer's qualification of the performance of The Tempest as being "reasonably good". It suffice to listen to the - indeed badly recorded - but exhilarating performance on the Remington disc. The harsh string tone can certainly be corrected somewhat. But it is clear that Fekete is in full command of the orchestra and the players show that they really can cope with the virtuoso passages of the storm building up and raging. Noteworthy is the brass section of the Orchestra of the Viennese Symphonic Society. It is not a polished recording, that's for sure, yet Fekete's is a strong and captivating performance and reminds one of the suspense generated by the sound track of an old 1950's B-movie, indicating the important influence of European, Eastern European and Russian artists, musicians and composers in Hollywood at the time.

R-199-138 - Bruckner: Symphony no. 3 (1889 ver., pub. Rättig 1890) - Zoltán Fekete, Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra (1950).

NOTE From 1950 on this recording had been available on Concert Hall Society CHS 1065. In the beginning of 1954 Concert Hall CHS 1065 was no longer available and had been deleted from Schwann Long Playing Record Catalog. The reason was that Concert Hall had now recorded a Bruckner Third with Walter Goehr conducting The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra which was released on Concert Hall CHS 1195 and was well received by the critics. In High Fidelity Magazine of April 1954, critic Paul Affelder wrote: "Walter Goehr conducts a compact, intense performance that is played in fine fashion by the Netherlands Philharmonic." From then on the original recording of Fekete's performance from 1950 became available on Remington R-199-138. It is definitely not a Remington MUSIRAMA recording as is suggested by cover and label. In Great Britain the Fekete recording was released on Concert Artist LPA 1018. Many years later it also appeared on Qualiton (Hungaroton) LP HLPX 1047. See Concert Hall

A curiosity is Concerteum CR 326 on which Zoltán Fekete conducts "Orchestral Suite" (Suite d'orchestre, Op. 3) by Béla Bartók. Although the Bartok Suite recording appeared on Concerteum with the specific Remington prefix CR, the Suite never appeared on Remington but was released on Colosseum CLPS 1010 in the US. A release on Remington was maybe planned but did not go through. It could well be that the plates were cut in the Webster pressing plant or at least by the same engineer who cut the lacquers of other Remingtons. See: Remington releases on the Concerteum label.


Zoltán Fekete on other labels:

Zoltán Fekete: "Caucasus Ballet Suite" Colosseum CLPS 1011. (April 1955)

Zoltán Fekete: "Snow White Ballet Suite" Colosseum CLPS 1011.

Hector Berlioz: Le corsair, Prague Symphony Orchestra - Supraphon SUG 20371

Hector Berlioz: Le Corsaire, Benvenuto Cellini.
Vincent d'Indy: La mort de Wallenstein, Istar.
Prague Symphony Orchestra - Supraphon SUA ST 50735. Issued as a Crossroad release in the USA. Prague Symphony Orchestra conducted by Zoltan Fekete.

Franz Schubert: Symphony in C, D 812, "Gastein Symphony" (orchestration by Fritz Oeser of Schubert's Grand Duo Opus 140. Colosseum CLPS 1013. In Great Britain Concert Artist LPA 1022.

Béla Bartok: Suite for Orchestras No. 1, opus 3 - Colosseum CLPS 1010.
In France on Concerteum CR 326 (1955) even though it was not an original Remington recording (CR meaning Concerteum Remington).

Gustav Mahler: - Das Klagende Lied.
Ilona Steingruber (Soprano), Sieglinde Wagner (Contralto) and Ernst Majkut (Tenor). Vienna State Opera Orchestra, conductor Zoltan Fekete. Mercury 10102.
In Great Britain this recording was not released as a Mercury but was issued on Concert Artist LPA 1021 released in April 1955.

Georg Friederich Handel: Jephta Suite No. I , arranged by Zoltan Fekete. Joseph Haydn: Symphony in C (arranged by Fekete). Salzburg Mozarteurn Orchestra conducted by Zoltan Fekete. Mercury 10066. In Great Britain Concert Artist LPA 1074, released in December 1955.

Zoltan Fekete in 1950. Photo taken from Mercury MG 10066, the recording of Fekete's Jephta Suite based on the later compositions of Georg Friedrich Handel - Saul, Alceste, Samson, Solomon, Joshua and the Triumph of Time and Truth - Fekete conducting the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra. That same record contains Fekete's edition of Haydn's Symphony in C Major. MG 10066 was released in November 1950.

Timothy Mather Spelman: The Vigil of Venus. Ilona Steingrunber (Soprano), Otto Wiener (Baritone), Vienna Academy Choir conducted by Ferdinand Grossman, The Vienna State Opera Orchestra conducted by Zoltan Fekete. MGM E3085. (1955).

Georg Friedrick Handel: Alceste Suite and Festival Suite (arranged by Zoltan Fekete). Vienna State Opera Orchestra conducted by Zoltan Fekete. Colosseum CLPS 1012. Concert Artist LPA 1005 in Great Britain.

Joseph Haydn: Symphonies 86, 88. Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra conducted by Zoltan Fekete. Mercury MG 10071

Georg Frederick Handel: The Triumph of Truth arranged by Zoltan Fekete. The Orchestral Society of Vienna conducted by Zoltan Fekete. Lyrichord LL 25. In Great Britain Concert Artist LPA 1012

Jules Massenet: Werther, excerpts. Geori Boué (Soprano), Barnay Marti (Tenor). Orchestra conducted by Zoltan Fekete. Orphée 51082 E (France). Later issued on Vogue LDM 30130.


Rudolf A. Bruil. Page first published on March 29, 2009



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