Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Budapest Festival Orchestra - Mendelssohn & Brahms - 01/18/15

Conductor: Ivan Fischer
Fanny Mendelssohn (arr. Sandor Balogh): Three Songs - Anna Lucia Richter
Die Mainacht (May night)
Ferne (Distance)
Gondellied (A gondolier's song)
Felix Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E Minor - Isabelle Faust
Brahms: Symphony No. 3 in F Major

There are a few musical figures that make me plan my life around their performances, and Ivan Fischer is one of them. From his days as the principal conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, which gave the Washingtonian I was then plenty of opportunities to appreciate his innovative approach to music making, to his eminent career leading his unanimously acclaimed Budapest Festival Orchestra, which I got to enjoy in many different exciting adventures, I always make a point of answering the call.
And if the program he was scheduled to perform with his orchestra at the Avery Fisher Hall last Sunday looked like nothing but solidly classical, there was still the unexpected appearance of a, gasp, 19th century female composer among the headliners, right ahead of her more famous brother and another German Romantic household name. That was certainly nothing to sneeze at.
However, the big surprise of the day for me was actually finding myself seated smack in front of my friend Paula without even knowing that she would be there. Great minds think alike indeed.

All contemporary music scholars seem to agree that Fanny Mendelssohn was unquestionably as talented as her brother Felix, but had had the misfortune of having being born female in a time where the glass ceiling was dreadfully lower and harder than it is today. A case in point for her talent was the three songs selected by Ivan Fischer and performed by the young German soprano Anna Lucia Richter, who beautifully channeled the freshness and musicality of these little gems: "Die Mainacht" exudes the fragrance of a spring night, "Ferne" expressed aching melancholy caused by unbreakable distance and "Gondellied" brought to mind a gentle escape on the water.
As if to emphasize the difference in scope between the siblings' careers (or lack therefore) Fanny's three delicately crafted songs were followed by what may be Felix's most popular composition of them all, his formidable violin concerto. The violiniste du jour was Isabelle Faust, a frequent soloist with the world's most prestigious orchestras, who on Sunday delivered a highly focused performance that was most remarkable for its understated and yet so present virtuosity. Firmly in command of the temperamental composition from beginning to end, she allowed us to (re)discover the timeless natural beauty of the concerto once its flashy parts had been toned down, reminding us all why we fell in love with it in the first place and why it has remained such a beloved masterpiece for so long.
After our foray into the Mendelssohn siblings' respective œuvres, we moved on to another Romantic giant with Brahms and his third symphony. Although his fourth symphony is the one that will always have a special place in my heart, I must admit that the previous one is quite a special journey as well and could hardly have been brought to life by a more fabulous ensemble. As a very animated and deeply involved Ivan Fischer led the way, the Budapest Festival Orchestra played the impeccably constructed work with intelligence, flair and a lot of heart, letting the wide emotional range of the piece come into full bloom and sweep us all up. It was a grand performance of a grand symphony.

Before we parted, Ivan Fischer obviously could not help but spring one of his delightful party favors on us, this time in the form of Fanny Mendelssohn's lovely "Morgengruss", which was sung by Anna Lucia Richter and, more surprisingly, the entire orchestra, which had turned into an a cappella choir for the occasion, bringing us back full circle where we had started.

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