Concerto in E flat (Dumbarton Oaks)
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104
Legends, Op.59 – No.10 in B flat minor
Nocturne in B, Op.40
Slavonic Dances, Op.46 – No.5 in A
The Firebird – 1919 Suite
Pieter Wispelwey (cello)
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 6 June, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
This “Shell Classic International” programme could be thought of as ‘little and large’, offering Stravinsky in both neo-classical economy and post-Romantic exoticism, alongside Dvořák in miniature form and on the grand scale of the Cello Concerto.
The fifteen players of the Budapest Festival Orchestra summoned to perform ‘Dumbarton Oaks’ gave a crisp, sprightly performance that struggled initially to find rhythmic vitality, but had it in abundance by the brisk third movement. Under Iván Fischer the Budapest players (violinists and violists standing) had a lean sound, strings economical with vibrato and woodwind gestures snappy and to the point. The link this piece traces back to Bach’s ‘Brandenburg’ Concertos was reinforced and was given with close-knit ensemble.
Such a taut orchestral sound suits the approach of Pieter Wispelwey, whose choice of gut strings for Dvořák, together with a brightly coloured accompaniment, led to a highly-charged performance of the Cello Concerto’s finale, prefaced by a slow movement that revelled in pastoral charm. Wispelwey’s first entry in the dramatic first movement Allegro took a while to find its feet, the balance weighted in favour of the orchestra to begin with, but once this was secured he played with passion and verve.
A key feature was his interaction with leader Tamás Major, ensuring the fast music was together, while in the slow movement Wispelwey’s duet with woodwind was exquisite, in contrast to an impassioned middle-section that found appropriate “Sturm und Drang” in the minor key. Overall, Wispelwey was also careful not to make this a display piece, so that while the virtuoso passages were brilliantly and securely played they were secondary to the whole.
After the interval Fischer brought us Dvořák the consummated miniaturist, with a charming Legend, a velvet-smooth but not indulgent Nocturne and a swaggering Slavonic Dance.
Under Fischer’s direction, the 1919 Suite from The Firebird found a keen sense of theatre. The strings were beautifully hushed in the opening and into the approach to the ‘Apotheosis’, while at the other end of the dynamic range the closing bars and the ‘Infernal Dance’ illustrated the Budapest Festival Orchestra on the edge. With a swirling ‘Dance Of The Firebird’ and a sensitive, tender ‘Lullaby’, Fischer cajoled his forces through a performance of great character and attention to detail, revealing fully the colourful orchestration that made Stravinsky such a great composer for the ballet.
For an encore there was another Slavonic Dance, a beautifully played and nicely swung performance of the one in C minor, the seventh of the Opus 46 set.