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Kodály’s conviction that group singing rather than instrumental accomplishments should be at the heart of school musical education began in earnest in 1937 with the publication of the first volume of Bicinia hungarica, an enterprise that by 1942 had extended to four volumes and 180 progressive 2-part songs. To this he added Tricinia, a collection of a further 29 progressive 3-part songs in 1954. Music education in Hungary received official state support after 1945 and this invigorated Kodály, already in his 60s, to devote even more of his time to travelling his country, creating and encouraging vocal performance.

These efforts eventually proved singing in primary and secondary schools to be vital to the wellbeing, coordination, cultural awareness, discipline and positive spirit of team working that should be recognised everywhere as essential basic education. With the encouragement of Sarolta Kodály, the composer’s widow, recordings in 1970 made by the Budapest Kodály Girls’ Choir, directed by Ilona Andor, occupy the first of the three discs. This includes 68 songs from the four volumes of Bicinia and Three Folksongs from Gömör. Making up the complete edition, all the remaining Bicinia songs, together with the complete Tricinia, were recorded in 2012. As may well be expected, the overall standard of performance is very high, set by the impeccable 1970 recordings and maintained in all the later performances which, under the direction of excellent choir leaders, incorporate other children’s and girls’ choirs from Budapest, Pécs and Kecskemet. It is hoped that these recordings might deflect the declining awareness of how essential singing is to the education of the young. Musical activity, especially singing in primary schools, is in need of renewed vitality if education is to serve its proper purpose. Having copies of the two collections to hand would enrich listening.

PATRIC STANDFORD Read the full review on Agora Classica

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