Goode Fischer Beethoven & Bartók – 2

Hungarian Peasant Songs
Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15
Coriolan Overture, Op.62
Concerto for Orchestra

Richard Goode (piano)

Budapest Festival Orchestra
Iván Fischer

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 4 June, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

On the face of it, the combination of Richard Goode – whose South Bank cycle of Beethoven sonatas was a highlight of live music in London during the 1990s, and Iván Fischer, whose Bartók recordings have won widespread acclaim – looked a dream pairing for the cycle of Beethoven concertos that got underway at the Barbican the previous evening. This second concert brought the First Piano Concerto in a reading that bore all the hallmarks of great music-making – even though it fell short of ultimate distinction.

Partly this was to do with the balance between soloist and orchestra. Although the expected ‘large Classical’ forces were employed, Fischer had them face inward towards the platform – reining-in their full impact so that tuttis, in particular, had a rather cramped feel. This, coupled with the lightness of string articulation and ‘authentic’ timpani that rarely carried the weight of the full orchestra, gave an often inhibited feel to what is the most uninhibited of Beethoven’s earlier orchestral works. Not that this fazed Goode, who seized upon the capricious modulations of the first movement with relish, and brought a sense of inquiry to bear on the development and the big second cadenza.

The flowing tempo for the Largo ensured there was no trace of sentimentality, with Goode’s differentiation of dynamics paying dividends in the coda. Come the finale, and the solo and orchestral renderings of the Rondo theme did not quite concur in tempo, robbing the music of the impetus needed at the outset. Yet the central episode was vividly characterised, with Goode effecting a real frisson at the ‘false’ modulation after the cadenza and in his poetic final entry before the orchestra’s brusque pay-off.

The combination of Bartók and Beethoven was neatly arranged so each prefaced the other over the course of the concert. It began with the Hungarian Peasant Songs that Bartók adapted in 1933 from a larger piano collection created during World War One. Essentially an ‘introduction and allegro’, this is the least heard of his numerous such orchestrations – and Fischer’s incisiveness, coupled with his care over the smallest detail, made its unfamiliarity the more regrettable. A similar responsiveness was evident in the Coriolan Overture – taut and energetic, if just a little anonymous in its delineation of the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits that underpin the piece’s formal and expressive trajectory.

An orchestra which persuasively mixes Hungarian and more generally European playing styles, the Budapest Festival Orchestra has made Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra something of a ‘party piece’ over its two decades of existence, and this performance was one to savour. Especially effectivewas Fischer’s running on of each movement directly from the last, so that motivic interconnections were evident as rarely before. The opposing thematic characters of the ‘Introduzione’ were tellingly though never aggressively contrasted, and a swift ‘Giuoco delle coppie’ – timbral shadings between the pairs nicely pointed up – did not preclude a touching gravity in the central chorale. Fischer wisely did not overdo the wrenching emotion of the ‘Elegia’, nor the high jinks in the midst of the ‘Intermezzo interrotto’ – its Shostakovich jibe surely (as conveyed here) more apparent than real. By the same token, the ‘Finale’ was treated not as a powerhouse of display, but an alternately joyful and pensive combining of earlier ideas, headed towards a close that was affirmative but never merely triumphal.

A performance which succeeded in bringing down the house, even so – leaving Fischer to lower the temperature with a chaste rendering of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise in its transcription for strings (front desks standing) and woodwinds. A suitably temperate note on which to end the first instalment of this Bartók/Beethoven series.

  • Remaining concerts on 11 & 12 November
  • Barbican

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