The woodwind and brass of the Budapest Festival Orchestra gave advance notice of their prowess in a tiny madrigal-like offering – a sort of musical monogram - before the main event.
Did it, I’m wondering, incorporate their own national anthem? Or some other nationalistic tune fashioned in the bygone style of the nation’s birth? Pride is something which shines through this orchestra’s playing and when, before leaving the platform, each player offers a handshake or embrace to their colleague it’s somehow much more than just a cursory acknowledgement of a job well done.
But that it was. The rare orchestral version of Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes brought the orchestra’s principal clarinet to the solo spot to rejoice in the catches and rasping glottal stop effects of one in search of his very own Klezmer band. The trouble with this version over that of the original piano quintet is that the soloist sounds somewhat out on a limb amidst his better behaved colleagues. It’s the rose-tinted take on the Jewish style where slurs and slides in the strings sound more cosmetic than vocal.
Primary colours were again muted in the beautiful performance of Bartok’s Second Violin Concerto which followed. It was as if the soloist, Leonidas Kavakos, and conductor, Ivan Fischer, were at all times mindful that one of Bartok’s favourite composers was Strauss. Romantic reverie was the key here in a reading which felt forever poised on the edge of dreams. Kavakos took his cue from the strumming harp, lyre-like at the start, lending the rapt opening theme an air of ancient fable. Feverish dances jolted us back to reality with smouldering trills and fiery arpeggios reminding us exactly where we were – deep in the Hungarian heartlands. But it was Kavakos’s miracles of fine shading that one took away from this performance, his stratospheric song blissfully duetting with celeste at the close of the slow movement like a fading memory.
The memory of Fischer’s reading of Dvorak’s 7th Symphony shall be one of geniality more than muscle. Like all great music-making it was the ease and spontaneity of the phrasing, big and flexible and harmonically revealing, that carried you along. Fine though it is in every department, the orchestra’s glory is its woodwind choir. The shining alliance of flute and oboe constantly entices the ear and I’m thinking that the oboe solo just prior to the close of the slow movement might be the most beautiful thing I’ve heard all season. Then again, what about the first trombone thrilling asserting D major at the close. Wow.