Royal Festival Hall, London

Classical review: Budapest Festival Orchestra - Bohemian rhapsody marred by clash of styles

4.00

 

In 2011, Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra played two BBC Proms in one night. The first was a meticulously disciplined programme of Liszt and Mahler, the second a jamboree of party pieces and encores, selected by raffle from a list of some 200 works. Encores are the great disinhibitors of classical music and they have served Fischer and his orchestra well. Now 30 years old, the BFO can melt the cognoscenti with musical kitsch, compete with the finest in core symphonic repertoire, and deliver Beethoven with the transparency of period instruments. Whether this should all be attempted in one performance is another matter.

On Monday, Fischer opened the first of the BFO's four UK concerts with Dohnanyi's Symphonic Minutes, a sugar-rush of kaleidoscopic orchestration and machine-age moto perpetuo, half warm-up, half come-on, all party piece. The change in dynamic, ambition and aesthetic from this to Beethoven's First Piano Concerto was awkward, and the stylistic connection to Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra entirely superficial. Fischer's placement of the principal woodwind players among the first and second desks of the strings gave unusual sweetness to the sound, but his reading of the Beethoven and that of the piano soloist, Imogen Cooper, didn't quite coalesce.

Where Fischer darts from playfulness to awe, Cooper plays coolly and ruminatively, her sound beautiful but introverted. The first movement cadenza – the longest and most discursive of the three Beethoven wrote a decade later to explore the range of a bigger instrument – sounded studious rather than improvisatory. While the audience yielded gratefully to the seductions of the clarinets, bassoons and natural horns in the Largo, Cooper seemed unmoved. The Rondo sparkled effortfully, with little sense of jest. The great sob of Budapest's cellos and basses gave focus to the Bartok, a work of profound gloom and reluctant showmanship written to order by a dying and exiled composer.

Fischer's careful navigation of the five-movement arc was thrown off-course when the central Elegy was disrupted by a dropped tam-tam. It must happen to the best of percussionists at least once in their lives.

Jonas Kaufmann's (Royal Festival Hall, London ****) recital of Verdi and Wagner arias with the Philharmonia and conductor Jochen Rieder last Sunday illustrated perfectly why one should always stay seated until the last encore is over. Handsome of voice and face, the tall, lean German tenor is at the top of every casting director's list these days. While the first half's selection from Luisa Miller, Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlo and La forza del destino was beautifully sculpted and controlled, it was not until the fourth encore that we heard Kaufmann's Verdi at its best, in Macduff's aria "Ah, la paterna mano" from Macbeth.

Kaufmann is a cautious singer. In Verdi, this can lead to a somewhat detached approach, as though he were concentrating harder on stylistic conventions than on character. While his half-voice is artful, he is more moving when he simply finds a sweet spot and sings. Artificially darkened Italian vowels sound, well, artificial, whereas the gleam of his German has real electricity. The vulnerability and innocence he brought to Walther's "Am stillen Herd" from Meistersinger was truly extraordinary. Two encores from the Wesendonck Lieder made one wonder why he hadn't programmed the full set. Either way, the Wagner liberated his Macduff.

Streetwise Opera's exuberant pasticcio, The Answer to Everything (BFI, London ***), wove together live and video-recorded performances of music by Handel, Vivaldi, Gounod, Schumann, Britten, Emily Hall, Orlando Gough and Gavin Bryars in the setting of a conference organised by Locateco Solutions, fictional leaders in the "single person re-homing market". The satire was broad, the passion tangible as professional and amateur performers from London, Newcastle, Gateshead and Middlesbrough, many of them with experience of homelessness, explored the dreamworlds of corporate delegates, cleaners and health and safety managers. A single from the show, of the Handel aria "Lascia ch'io pianga" is available on iTunes.

Critic's Choice

The walls of Jericho collapse as director-designer Charles Edwards stages Handel’s 1748 oratorio Joshua for Opera North, at Grand Theatre, Leeds (from Tue). Pianist and French music specialist Paul Roberts shines a spotlight on the creative relationship between Debussy and Ravel in an afternoon lecture-recital at London’s Wigmore Hall (Sat).

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?

An enlightening finale for Don Draper

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Serious player: Aussie Guy Sebastian rehearses for the big show in Vienna

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable