Budapest Festival Orchestra/Fischer/Goode, Barbican, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Bartok is not all constructivist ferocity or eerie night music. This concert in the Beethoven/Bartok series at the Barbican by Ivan Fischer and his responsive Budapest Festival Orchestra opened with the Hungarian Sketches - the first of them an intertwining of two dances with a sweetness resembling Copland.

True, there is ferocity in the "Bear Dance" second sketch, but humour, too, in the lurching fourth, "A Bit Drunk". And while Bartok may have got up the set in 1931 as a concession to the traditional taste of the time, the craft and colour of his writing, so deftly pointed on this occasion, deserves more frequent hearing now.

Over to Beethoven, with Richard Goode reaching the Piano Concerto No 4 in G major, Op 58. Never a pianist to be taken for granted, he opted on this occasion for a comparatively robust account of the long lyrical opening movement, where others have been tempted to linger in a poetic haze.

It's no slight to Goode to say that the concert's second half achieved an even higher level of intensity. Fischer opened it by offering Felix Weingartner's full string orchestra arrangement of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge, Op 133, which, while it may mollify the strain of the original, brings out with antiphonal clarity the astonishing originality of Beethoven's cross-rhythms.

And from thence straight into the numbed, drifting opening fugue of Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) - which, together with the sinister frissons of its third movement - comprises the apogee of his night music mode. Yet Fischer's ability to invest the most hair-splitting tempo change with a sense of spontaneity proved even more convincing in the sectional second movement scherzo and the rudely rustic finale - pieces that can all too easily fall apart in constructivist chunks.

It is difficult, indeed, to recall an account of this influential masterpiece that has characterised its teeming sonic effects more vividly, while still successfully integrating its complex formal sequence into a single sweep. To judge by the response, it certainly went to the minds, hearts and guts of its audience.

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