mon 22/07/2024

Prom 39: Schiff, Elbert, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer 3 review - jaw-dropping standards of orchestral playing | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 39: Schiff, Elbert, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer 3 review - jaw-dropping standards of orchestral playing

Prom 39: Schiff, Elbert, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer 3 review - jaw-dropping standards of orchestral playing

Openness, renewal and optimism in Ligeti, Bartók and Beethoven

Anna-Lena Elbert, Iván Fischer and members of the Budapest Festival Orchestra in 'Mysteries of the Macabre'All images by Chris Christodoulou

The Budapest Festival Orchestra never stops proving what a great ensemble it is. In last night’s concert, the third Prom of its weekend residency, the miraculous ways in which the absurd humour of Ligeti, the deep soulfulness of Bartók and the implacable genius of Beethoven were brought to the surface were not just joyful and completely fulfilling, but also unfailingly drew in the attention of the whole audience in a completely full Royal Albert Hall.

It takes quite some performance to overcome the seeming familiarity of Beethoven’s Eroica, and yet Iván Fischer and his Budapest orchestra achieved it. The power and the clarity of every gesture from the conductor are astonishing. Sometimes he sways from side to side to reinforce the feeling of the dance, at others he will stand stock-still, glower and confront. As he admits in the programme note: “I’m a terrible tyrant when I conduct...” He might give the first violins the shape of a phrase with a long arc, or give them a repeated figure by appearing to be shaking something off his hand. Or he will leans into the violas to bring lustre and love to a melody. One can hear how every one those gestures becomes reflected in the music. Ivan Fischer at the PromsHe gave the first movement a particular kind of urgency. It was all about the cross-beats and rhythmic instability, an insistence that everything seems to start not with the first beat of the three-four bar but with the ‘two’. Fischer also has a particular way of marking transitions and helping the flow of the story, which is often to allow the basses, prominently placed high up at the back of the orchestra to lead a slight rallentando before departing off into a new mood and a new feel. Here, the unanimity with which the whole orchestra flawlessly finds its way through to the top of a new page always feels like a complete miracle. And the radio recording of the concert reinforces the feeling one had in the hall: the balance and ensemble of the Budapest FO are consistently jaw-dropping.

The wind section never ceases to amaze with the impeccable way they play “across” as a section. Perhaps this is related to the fact that the orchestra’s Montpellier-born principal oboe Victor Aviat is also a conductor in his own right, and one with a growing reputation.

From the Bartók Third Concerto, which the same team performer in Edinburgh, what stays above all in the mind is the wondrously unhurried spaciousness and poetry of the slow movement, a feeling reinforced by listening to the excellent radio recording. Never a moment of grandstanding, pointscoring or overemphasising, András Schiff, approaching 70 later this year (and pictured below backstage), consistently gave this work crispness and natural clarity – and inspiring authority. His encore, No.1 from Three Rondos on Slovak Folk Tunes by Bartók written in 1916 also had grace and beautiful poise. Andras Schiff in the Albert HallLigeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre, an extract from his seventies opera Le Grand Macabre in a 1991 arrangement by Elgar Howarth, is a full-on nine minutes of mayhem, madness, humour, silliness and intense virtuosity for a Zerbinetta-ish singer-actress - Anna-Lena Elbert on fine form - and an orchestra with a vast battery of percussion. The programme note argues that “way over the top is a good place to be.” Perhaps...

The piece is true to Iván Fischer’s credo that he wants to test limits in the orchestra, to treat it as a “laboratory for the future. Indeed, there are always surprises: whereas this programme might have appeared on paper as the most Hungarian of the three, this “Hungarian” orchestra had a fine guest leader, Korean-German violinist Suyoen Kim who s leader of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin. One of the greatest challenge for orchestras is to make room for the energies and talents of the players of extraordinary quality who, having emerged from European conservatoires and academies in the past twenty years.. and who are now in their prime. The presence of Kim leading this fine orchestra felt like the right gesture of openness, renewal and optimism.

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