Sunday, January 25, 2009

Budapest Festival Orchestra - Liszt, Brahms & Sarasate - 01/24/09

Conductor: Ivan Fischer
Traditional Gypsy Folk Music - Jozsef "Csocsi" Lendvay, Sr & Oskar Okros
Liszt - Hungarian Rhapsody No3 in D Major
Brahms - Hungarian Dances No 15 and No 1
Sarasate - Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20
Brahms - Hungarian Dance No 11 - Jozsef Lendvay, Jr, Jozsef "Csocsi" Lenvay, Sr & Oszkar Okros
Brahms - Symphony No 1 in C Minor, Op. 68

Yesterday evening, for the first time this season, I was finally back at Carnegie Hall, which is probably my favorite classical music venue, but which has the extremely irritating habit of scheduling very tempting concerts during the week. Therefore, reviewing their season offerings can be a very frustrating experience for anybody not residing in the Big Apple. It does, of course, have attractive programs on the weekends too, and I was more than happy to go check out current NSO principal music director, Ivan Fischer, conduct the Budapest Festival Orchestra, which he founded in 1983 and with which he is still deeply involved, in a performance dedicated to the joys of Hungarian music. He proved to be a very gracious host as well, filling us in between pieces and obviously relishing the opportunity to bring part of his heritage to such a wide audience.

The celebration kicked off with some traditional music played on the cimbalom, and we had one of the world's leading experts, Oszkar Okros, make a delightful demonstration of it. He was soon joined by Jozsef "Csocsi" Lendvay, Sr, a celebrated violinist in Hungary and abroad, and they soon engaged in spirited and virtuosic improvisation.
Next, Ivan Fischer used Liszt's lively Hungarian Rhapsody No 3 as the perfect example of the winning combination of traditional and classical music. It started as the version we all know and love, took a detour in gypsy territory, and ended with a classical finish.
A Hungarian music celebration wouldn't be complete without Brahms, and two of his Hungarian Dances, the unabashedly joyful No 15 and the more languorous No 1, reminded us why these infectious short works remain such perennial favorites.
Pablo de Sarasate owes his fame as a composer to essentially one piece, but what a piece! Either played with solo violin and orchestra or with violin and piano, Zigeunerweisen remains the quintessential gypsy tune. The frequently alternating slow and fast sections, evoking in turn dignified pride and exuberant joy, make it an irresistible classic, and last night's version, with an orchestra, would have made the fiery Spanish violinist and composer proud.
Back to Brahms, we had the privilege to hear Jozsef Lendvay, Sr, again, but this time accompanied by his no less talented son, Jozsef Lendvay, Jr, who has been making a name for himself in the past few years. They joined forces with Oskar Okros and performed a really, really lovely version of the Hungarian Dance No 11.
The (almost) last piece on the program was Brahm's Symphony No 1, the one the world waited over 20 years for, but the impressive work at least did not disappoint. Deeply romantic and lyrical, it proved once and for all that the composer was not just hype but could actually deliver. From the sweeping first notes to the decidedly melodic final theme, "Beethoven's Tenth" as it is sometimes called for good and less good reasons, benefited for a very committed conductor holding the orchestra at his fingertips. Clearly in their element, the musicians gave an inspired and assured performance, proving to be the perfect ambassadors for their country's musical culture.

As the audience wouldn't let them go, they came back five times and eventually treated us with a fired-up version of Brahms' Hungarian Dance No 7, and finally ended the festivities the way they had started, with some more folk music from the Hungarian heartland.

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