Die Zauberflöte, K620 – Overture
Piano Concerto No.9 in E flat, K271
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68
Maria João Pires (piano)
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Landau
Reviewed: 20 May, 2015
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
This visit by Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra that he founded three decades ago afforded us another opportunity to savour their special qualities, aided by a layout of antiphonal violins, cellos centre-left, and double basses spread across the back of the stage. The opening of the Overture to Die Zauberflöte was taken extremely broadly, with lofty grandeur and solemnity that amply reflected the manifold psychological complexities of the opera. We should be in for a treat in May next, when these same forces bring the complete work to the Southbank Centre. Meanwhile, we were already able to appreciate the sonorous and secure brass, and the excellence of the strings, whose varied hues blended and contrasted to striking effect.
In the miraculous E-flat Piano Concerto composed by the 21-year-old Mozart (if not, latest research suggests, written for Mme Jeunehomme), Maria João Pires’s reading was graced with an almost symbiotic accompaniment. There was not the least hint of affectation in her playing; instead emotional engagement was contained within a framework of intellectual rigour that is rarely encountered and which is almost beyond words to convey; and nowhere were these attributes in greater evidence than in the unusually numerous cadenzas. Nary a sound was heard from the audience during this spellbinding account. How unfortunate there were no microphones present, for this artistic collaboration deserved a much larger audience. As an encore, Pires offered ‘Vogel als Prophet’ from Schumann’s Opus 82 Waldszenen, meditatively delivered.
Although in Brahms’s First Symphony one admired, once again, every facet of the highest-quality playing – this performance of a great work did not add up to a convincing whole. Only at the end did a sense of drama and passionate engagement emerge, far too late. Rather than an orchestral encore, the BFO members sang a cappella, Brahms’s ‘Es geht ein Wehen’ (I Hear a Sighing through the Wood), the sixth of his Opus 62 settings, which was a credit to all concerned.