Budepest Festival Orchestra/Fischer, Barbican, London<br/> Halle Orchestra/Elder, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Ludwig, the full-blooded way
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The Independent Culture

Like Bartok and Beethoven, Richard Goode and Ivan Fischer are an odd couple. One is an intellectual, bound up in the detail and nuance of text and subtext; the other a Romantic whose dramatic landscapes have the sublime grandeur of a Caspar David Friedrich. Yet their performance of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto - the penultimate in their Bartok and Beethoven Cycle with the Budapest Festival Orchestra - was more fascinating than frustrating.

In the June leg of this concert tour, Goode and Fischer failed to cohere. Last weekend - in a concerto that demands less unanimity, and one in which the cadenzas were written by the composer - their stylistic differences worked to create a persuasive dialogue. Like a log fire on a stormy day, Goode's stretched grace notes, expressive use of the sustaining pedal, and beautifully balanced inner harmonies offset the brusque, quasi-baroque interjections of the Andante. Any rhythmic idiosyncrasies in the Rondo were smoothed over by the full-blooded sound of the woodwind and the reliable delicacy of the BFO's double-basses. I can't pretend that Goode is my Beethovenian ideal - that would have to be Emanuel Ax - but his Fourth Piano Concerto proved every bit as elegant as it was eccentric.

Felix Weingartner's Hammer Horror orchestration of the Grosse Fuge was anomalous in what was otherwise a programme of tremendous integrity. Beethoven and Bartok have their lurid moments, but none so lurid as Weingartner. The icy film noir atmosphere of Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta made the Grosse Fuge look positively cheap, as did the Hungarian Sketches: a work that made me wonder whether Copland had studied it.

The following night in Manchester, I suspect I may have witnessed a star being born. One hesitates to use such hyperbole in a world given to over-promoting young singers, then spitting them out with equal rapidity, but Mikhail Petrenko - a young bass-baritone with swaggering charm, an easy stage presence, a voice like a vast copper samovar, but none of the inflexibility and pomposity that so often accompanies vocal heft - shows enormous promise.

Petrenko's confident performance of Shostakovich's Ten Songs of the Fool - a series of absurdist epithets accompanied by slapping strings, punchy brass, and a kvetching oboe - was a highlight of Mark Elder's excellent concert of Russian music with the Hallé Orchestra at the Bridgewater Hall. Aside from polishing his orchestra's sonority to a standard that comfortably rivals that of their London counterparts, Elder has become a master of unusual programming. Here, his purpose was to show that there is more to Russian music than middle-class melancholy and picaresque peasant dances. Glinka's light-as-air wedding portrait Kamarinskaya and Borodin's optimistic Symphony No. 1 - a highly convincing naturalisation of the Teutonic model - led up to the nocturnal mists of Rachmaninov's setting of Edgar Allen Poe's The Bells. As ever, Elder's control was extraordinary; creating a vast vista with minute intensifications of the orchestral colours. The attack of the combined forces of the Hallé and London Philharmonic Choirs was superb, while John Daszak's grainy, heroic tenor, Melanie Diener's insinuating, electric soprano, and Petrenko's tarred bass wrung every shiver and shudder of ghostliness from this monument to the macabre.

a.picard@independent.co.uk

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