Monday, February 22, 2016

Budapest Festival Orchestra - Weber, Liszt & Prokofiev - 02/18/16

Music Director & Conductor: Ivan Fischer
Weber: Overture to Der Freischütz
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat Major - Marc-André Hamelin
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat Major, Op. 100

It is always a pleasure to attend a performance by the fabulous Budapest Festival Orchestra, and last Thurday I even got to double my pleasure by attending their open working rehearsal at Carnegie Hall in the morning before the official concert in the evening. Moreover, the fact that they would be accompanied by pianist extraordinaire Marc-André Hamelin only made my friend Paula's invitation to the special event even more compelling.
Budapest Festival Orchestra's founder, music director and conductor Ivan Fischer is well-known not only for his impeccable musicianship and unbreakable integrity, but also for his irrepressible spirit of adventure and occasional flashes of quirkiness. And those were on full display as soon as the rehearsal started, when the maestro spontaneously broke long-established rules by inviting the audience to sit closer to the stage and clap whenever they felt like it. The rest of the session was engaging and informative for the audience, focused and productive for the orchestra, and everybody left looking forward to the real thing.

And the real thing started swimmingly indeed, with a beautifully colored and intensely organic overture to the opera Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber. The best location for the four horn players had been discussed at length during rehearsal, and after various attempts, it had been unanimously determined that each pair should stand in slightly elevated positions on each side of the orchestra, and so they were, solemn and assertive.
Franz Liszt's dazzling Piano Concerto No. 1 is only about 20 minutes long, but there is an awful lot going during that time. The orchestra was predictably robust, and Marc-André Hamelin played his part with powerful virtuosity, from the resounding explosions to the understated interludes, while the famously conspicuous triangle made a decidedly loud and clear impression from right behind the soloist. As far as memorable performances of it go, it would probably be difficult to beat the 1855 premiere, with the teenage composer himself at the keyboard and no other than Hector Berlioz on the podium. However, the pairing of Marc-André Hamelin and Ivan Fischer on Thursday night was not half-bad either.
Our loud appreciation encouraged Hamelin to come back for Liszt’s transcription of Chopin's song "My Darling", which was as exquisite as the concerto had been flamboyant.
The Budapest Festival Orchestra's energetic performance of Prokofiev's epic Symphony No. 5 proved that the beloved composition's power of attraction remains as strong as ever. The numerous tricky high notes at the beginning of the second movement, which had been extensively worked on during rehearsal, went off flawlessly intricate and playful, and all the other technical challenges were deftly mastered as well. The straightforward interpretation of the composition was rather surprising from someone who could have cleverly alluded to its caustic commentaries in so many ways, but the musical enjoyment was high and unadulterated.
To conclude our evening on a totally different note, all the musicians stood up and sang a cappella a delicately shining rendition of a "4th century Russian orthodox church song arranged by a 19th-century composer". A gorgeous parting gift that may even outlast the official program in the audience's memory.

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