thu 18/07/2024

BBC Proms: Lazić, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer/ Audience Choice Prom | reviews, news & interviews

BBC Proms: Lazić, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer/ Audience Choice Prom

BBC Proms: Lazić, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer/ Audience Choice Prom

Another extraordinary night at the Royal Albert Hall full of Hungarian chutzpah

Chris Christodoulou

"Don't expect polish," announced Ivan Fischer apologetically. "Things vill go rrrong. We may start pieces again." The tuba had been turned into a tombola. The percussionists were playing their buttocks. Someone else was blowing a Hungarian didgeridoo. A certain amount of madness was expected from the second Prom, an experimental Audience Choice concert. But the Mahler One of the first Prom? Who knew that that would be equally if not even more outrageous.

As Edward Seckerson once wrote on theartsdesk, Mahler is about extremes: extremes of dynamic, tempo and texture. And death-defying extremes we got. There was a Cagean opening hush, a ritardando into the D major explosion that felt like we had all been led into a lake of toffee and almost a school rugby bus feel to the indecently raucous and drunken Scherzo.

The Finale? Literally jaw-dropping. The whole orchestra belted through the final bars as if they had wolfed down a bag of cocaine, chief drug dealer, Ivan Fischer, manically waving section after section to leap to their feet for the last notes. Thank God the piece ends where it does. Such was the exponential accretion of energy, the orchestra was almost left nowhere to go except perhaps up through the roof, Busby Berkeley style.

The whole thing almost totally defied analysis. Fischer had torn to shreds the polite, urtext-bound rule book that still dominates concerts. And he had every right to. Not just because everything he did worked. But also because every detail had its grounding in things Mahler or his disciples had themselves done (such as standing horns). Besides, having been premiered in Budapest in 1889, the work does in some small part belong to these musicians.

The first half was no less breathtaking. Following a sharply defined, brightly coloured opening Mephisto Waltz and a sweet and shapely performance of Mahler's Blumine, the orchestra were joined by Croatian pianist Dejan Lazić for Liszt's monstrous, virtually atonal Totentanz. Lazić and Fischer, two of the livest wires in the business, romped through the work, making a mockery of the technical difficulties they faced. Lazić's staccato keepy-uppy with the near-dodecaphonic arpeggios was finger-defying. There were octave runs and four-octave leaps, all of Olympic standard. Yugoslav-Hungarian hybrids like me don't often get the chance to feel a swelling of nationalistic pride. But one really could here.

Hungarian tafelmusik danced us to the Budapest coffee house


The musicality, the pride, the mayhem: it all continued into the late-night Prom. When English ensembles deliver new-fangled participatory events it's almost always head-in-jumper stuff as they drag their feet through various politically correct and patronising outreach hoops in order to guarantee another year's state funding. Last night couldn't have been further from this teeth-clenching fare.

First, authentic Transylvanian folk music serenaded us to our seats, whereupon the raffle on what the orchestra would play (unrehearsed) began. Three people were randomly (this is where the tuba tombola [pictured right] came in) selected to choose one work each from the 285 on offer. Then the vote - which quickly shifted from a show of hands to a show of brute vocal power. "Brahms Hungarian Dance No 1!", one shouted. "Boring!" we shouted. "Meistersinger Overture!" another hollered. Nah, we collectively thought. "Kodály's Dances of Galánta?" Now we were talking!

A lot of my time at the Proms is spent under-the-breath cursing the noisome tics of the Prommers, dearly wishing that one day I'll pluck up the courage to shout, "Critic to Arena: I Hate You ALL". But last night, I wanted to hug them. The way they overwhelmed the Classic FM tendencies of the audience and steered the night towards the adventurous was terrific. Cruelly, I revelled in the stony faces that descended on the suburban couples in the stalls as yet another chart-topper was rejected.

Josef Strauss's Music of the Spheres Waltz swept aside Mahler's Adagietto. Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture crushed Boléro (for which protest returned - of the right sort). We got rip-roaring Roumanian Folk Dances from Bartók, Stravinsky's Tango and a manic March from Berlioz's Damnation of Faust. All glorious stuff, stylishly done. But the real treats came in the gaps. While the librarian hunted down the scores, Hungarian tafelmusik, folk cello - the gardon - the didgeridoo and resin-encrusted fiddles danced us to the Budapest coffee house. What a triumph of innovation. Bravo, Roger Wright.

After the antics of Thursday, I was fully expecting today to report that everything was back to normal at the Royal Albert Hall. But it wasn't at all. Two more extraordinary days at the Proms can't have ever been seen.

A lot of my time at the Proms is spent cursing the noisome tics of the Prommers. But last night, I wanted to hug them

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What are the 'noisome tics' of the Prommers, please? Presumably smelly rather than noisy is what you mean, but I doubt if you can catch a whiff from where you're sitting. They don't do any unison shouting these days other than announcing the fundraising for musical charities - only a sociopath would object to that; they listen attentively, they help to energise the players at just about every Prom. Maybe if you were down there and felt aggrieved by their territorial antics, I could understand what you're saying, but this is just loftily mean and cheap.

Well quite. Also, has it occurred to you that The Bolero call might have been a joke to flush out the elitists? Don't want to say like yourself but it's difficult not to really... Completely agree with your opinion of the concert, enjoyed the review. An astonishing performance and my Prom of the season.

Of course I don't mean all the Prommers. I often am one. I mean the Adams Family cabal of front-row-hogging Gauleiter-type Prommers who, through their supposed longevity of attendance, think they are there to officially police the Arena and fill the hall with their suburban wit and who are, whenever I have had the misfortune to meet one in the Arena queue, on the whole, complete jerks. I don't know why, just because they have become the self-appointed charity collectors, we should have to endure their self-aggrandising little daily cock-a-doodle-do. They don't own the place. We never asked them to be our spokesmen. (And by the way they do still shout in unison). And I meant noisome as in obnoxious, not noisome as in smelly but I imagine both are true.

How fashionable it's become to knock Ravel's Bolero, one of the most extraordinary pieces in the rep - though it's difficult to recapture the freshness it must have had initially and to do it well. But as a song for most of the instruments of the orchestra, it's a great showpiece - and I'll never forget the Proms performance of it by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia, one of my all-time highlights.

Igor, it's a requirement of the RAH and the BBC that the Promenaders' Musical Charities announce the running total by way of a shout.

For the record, it's a very long time since I've heard the once-common (and usually not very funny) 'Arena to Orchestra's, only the daily announcement re musical charities. Thanks to Lee for clarifying that, but it needs no apology: as Paul says, only a sociopath could really object. There are sure some strange folk among the regulars, but I've had some good company in the mid-arena. I loved that Salonen Bolero too.

They still heave. They still ho. They still applaud when the A is struck. The middle Arena is a different world from the narcissism of the front rail. And I don't have a problem with Bolero at all. I'm a big fan when it's done right. Salonen's for me fell way short. Benjamin's a year before was far more energetic. None come close to the 1940 Stokowski/ All-American Youth Orchestra recording. My point was that choosing Bolero out of the 294 other works on offer seriously lacked imagination. We had one of the greatest orchestras on earth at our disposal. They were willing to play almost anything ever written. And someone chose Bolero?

Bolero. Hmm. Perhaps they chose it because it's a great piece. As you say. Perhaps they chose it just because they wanted to hear this magnificent Orchestra play it. Perhaps it would have been an extraordinary performance. we'll never know will we. It's rather a fashion now to attack it, and anyone who might like it, because well, it's a bit common isn't it? Too many people like it for gods sake! You have no idea what the motivation behind the choice was. It wasn't your choice, oh well. That doesn't make it a wrong one. I would have chosen the Bruckner Scherzo myself, I'm sure that wouldn't have gone down well either. So what. Stop attacking the audience, it's boring. Back to writing about the music?

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