Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.19
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
The Miraculous Mandarin Suite
Richard Goode (piano)
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 3 June, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
The first of four concerts that will embrace Beethoven’s five numbered piano concertos from Richard Goode and numerous works of Bartók brought much to admire together with some doubts.
Bartók’s Dance Suite introduced the pungent timbres, athleticism and dynamic finesse of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, which is steeped in Bartók’s music under Iván Fischer’s long-time direction. This was a fiery and earthy account sophisticatedly realised; yet the occasional phrasal nudging and tempo fluctuation seem imposed rather than innate and slightly detracted from what was, overall, the sort of identified account of this music that is all too rarely encountered. Similarly in the Mandarin Suite; there was some outstanding corporate and solo playing – especially clarinet and trombones – and some of the colours and atmosphere created during the otherworldly moments were mesmerising in terms of imaginary stage action. Yet the opening street-scene bustle was too measured and controlled, and the final chase-music, although dramatically fast, was too carefully delineated to create optimum savagery. The musicians really know this music, though.
The Budapest Festival Orchestra has a very distinctive sound; its musicians have a significant input that is calculably entwined with Fischer’s lucid and accommodating vision. In the first half (Dance Suite, Beethoven B flat), Fischer opted for antiphonal violins and cellos centre-left; after the interval, the violins were seated together, the cellos moved to centre-right and the violas took the outside-right position. For Bartók, the eight double basses were in a line at nearly the rear of the platform (the percussion behind them) with timpani completing the run. Antiphonal violins were a constant delight in the B flat concerto and were missed in the C minor. Fischer had just four basses for the concertos – six would have been preferable in the minor-key piece – with the parts diplomatically shared between the players.
Richard Goode’s sensitivity and searching needs no introduction. Concerto No.2 (actually No.1 and also preceded by at least one ‘juvenile’ piano concerto) was superbly done and introduced by an elegant orchestral introduction that had just enough edge to be appropriate for Beethoven. Goode’s sparkle and innate eloquence constantly illuminated the notes. The Adagio flowed as an extended song and, in the final bars, came to rest in the most becalmed way; the finale was measured and joyous with a few, surprising, unkempt moments.
But the C minor concerto was treated similarly and was less engrossing; darker undercurrents were rarely even hinted at, and although the fleet tempo for the opening movement brought its own expressive charge, this lithe traversal failed to get into the deeper emotions that lie within this work. The Largo flowed too, but too much; just a little more time was needed, and the finale had purpose but was a little genteel; the musicians’ bluff wit in the coda – the crisp sound of smaller, ‘authentic’ timpani being especially telling – left the biggest impression; although, throughout, there was no doubting Goode’s musicianship, a poetic blend that makes Concerto No.4 especially mouth-watering (11 November).
Although no encore was really needed following Mandarin, as I vacated the hall a Brahms Hungarian Dance filled the space and became a perfect diminuendo into the night air.
- 4 June – Piano Concerto No.1 & Bartók Concerto for Orchestra; remaining concerts on 11 & 12 November