Conductor: Ivan Fischer
Dvorak: Slavonic Dance, Op. 72, No. 6
Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B Minor - Daniel Müller-Schott
Dvorak: Legend No. 10
Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, "From the New World"
Every time I am at a reasonable distance from Ivan Fischer and his unfailingly fabulous Budapest Festival Orchestra, I simply have to go. And so I did go to the Avery Fisher Hall on Monday night to hear Hungary's most prestigious export perform an all-Dvorak program, which included his grand cello concerto and his even grander "New World" symphony. Although these two extremely popular works regularly appear on concert programs all over the world, I knew that the visiting Hungarians would make them special by the sheer power of their committed musicianship and irrepressible spirit of adventure.
The short but lively Slavonic Dance No 8 that opened the program immediately put everybody in a festive mood, even more so when one of the orchestra's percussionists suddenly got up, nonchalantly came to sit down right in the empty soloist chair, casually took out a tiny brass cymbal from his pocket, and eventually started playing it right in tune, non-plussed by the big deal his small contribution had become.
Next, the soloist for the evening, young but already much in demand German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott, did take the seat that was rightfully his and readily delivered a beautifully expressive performance of Dvorak's beloved cello concerto. Listening to such a well-rounded composition, I was finding it hard to believe that it took Dvorak forever to decide to write for the cello. Taking his time to let the music expansively breathe and leisurely display a wide range of moods, from elegant to lyrical, from mournful to triumphant, Daniel Müller-Schott indisputably proved that he had a solid grasp on the challenging work and plenty of virtuosic skills to pull it off.
This was only confirmed by his soulful interpretation of Maurice Ravel's "Pièce en forme de Habanera" that rewarded our enthusiastic ovation.
Another lovely amuse bouche, Dvorak's Legend No 10 kicked off the second part of the concert with just enough firing power to prepare us for the big one that was coming our way.
Although Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 was written in the United States and is peppered with more or less obvious references to various American musical traditions, it remains first and foremost a majestic composition chock-full of intense emotions, appealing melodies and plenty of oomph. From the gripping opening to the take-no-prisoners finale, Ivan Fischer led his orchestra in a compelling performance that exuded razor-sharp precision and rustic light-heartedness by exemplarily unifying all fronts and boldly drawing out the work's many vibrant colors. Amidst all the sweeping moments, the melancholic Largo strongly stood out thanks to the spell-binding English horn solo that was inconspicuously supported by the hushed wind section. It all ended up in the well-known exhilarating climax that is the Allegro con fuoco. And there was a lot of raging fire indeed coming out of the stage on Monday night, prompting me to think that my 2013-2014 music season was about to finish with a resounding bang.
But assuming that the concert would wrap up with this terrific take on a classic among classics would be vastly underestimating Ivan Fischer's ever-unpredictable imagination. And sure enough, as if to prove their appreciation of our wild ovation, the women in the orchestra got up, took out a score and started singing Dvorak's "Hoře", a sad love song from his "Moravian Duets", delicately accompanied by the male string players. As low-key as the New World symphony was big-time, this unexpected conclusion of the concert effectively brought my music season to a unique and memorable end.