Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra offered a well-balanced program. Fischer directed J. S. Bach’s B-minor Orchestral Suite from the keyboard, facing a small ensemble including a second harpsichord and with Gabriella Pivon brilliant in the flute part. Adopting well-chosen tempos, Fischer led with elegance and grace, bringing sprightly energy to the dance movements.
Dénes Várjon’s masterful technique and interpretative sensibilities merged perfectly in an outstanding performance of Beethoven’s C-minor Piano Concerto. In the first movement he combined vigorous assertiveness and subtle expressivity to bring urgency and intensity. His sensitive playing was captivating in the meditative Largo, a dreamy atmosphere created, and then brought a light touch and dexterity to the Finale. Várjon and Fischer were in stylistic accord, achieving artful nuance and technical precision. For an encore, Várjon offered Bartók’s Three Hungarian Folksongs from the Csik District.
Following intermission, Fischer and the BFO took on Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, frequently played but all-too-often without much insight. Fischer paid insistent attention to detail, reinforcing accents, and his exquisite shaping of lyrical phrases revealed Inner voices. At the close of the introductory Largo, Marie-Noëlle Perreay’s beautiful English horn solo set the stage for the ensuing Allegro moderato, and this substantial first movement went by in a flash, yet without excessive speed. Inspiring vibrant fervor, Fischer approached climaxes with ferocious strength, yet refrained from going beyond the boundaries of tempo.
A riveting Scherzo, energetic to the point of frenzy, contained several interesting touches during the poetic moments, and the rhapsodic Adagio, opened by Ákos Ács’s wonderful clarinet solo, had plenty of passion without becoming gushingly maudlin; before the closing section, beautifully hushed violins made time stand still. Fischer imbued the Finale with vigor and joyous vitality. This was an extraordinary concert, rounded-off by Rachmaninov’s Vocalise (Opus 34/14), sung by the BFO’s female members.