Budapest Festival Orchestra, Barbican Hall, London

A quiet night with Ludwig and Béla

The second concert of Iván Fischer and Richard Goode's Beethoven Cycle drew a surprisingly modest audience. As the Budapest Festival Orchestra normally sell to capacity, I can only assume that they were victims of The Beethoven Experience, and that many of their core customers were sitting at home, frantically listening to something other than Beethoven before the marathon began on Radio 3 (see Radio review, opposite). Silly, really, for the BFO's cycle is as much about Bartók as it is about Beethoven.

Goode's Beethoven is a curious thing: pale of complexion, intricately detailed, and teeming with unusual accents beneath a somewhat spinstery surface. It would be trite to describe it as intellectual, but he rarely removes his metaphorical pince-nez. At the Barbican, his sole moment of expressive abandon in the First Piano Concerto was in his cadenza to the first movement, which was, oddly, of nearly equal duration to the rest of the movement and styled after a later period.

Though Goode and Fischer evidently admire each other's interpretive idiosyncrasies, this was a combative account, played as a duel for two pianos, one of which just happened to be orchestrated. Fischer is quite the control freak in this repertoire, but I enjoyed his Beethoven a good deal more than Goode's and thought his Coriolan Overture magnificent. Equally strong were Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, gilded by the lovely playing of clarinettist Ákos Ács, and Hungarian Peasant Songs, which might have been written for the intense, waxy unison of the BFO's distinctive strings.

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