Goode Fischer Beethoven & Bartók – 3

Hungarian Sketches
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Grosse Fuge, Op.133 [arr. Weingartner]
Music for strings, percussion and celesta

Richard Goode (piano)

Budapest Festival Orchestra
Iván Fischer

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 11 November, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The four-concert series in which Richard Goode is playing Beethoven’s five numbered piano concertos and Iván Fischer is conducting numerous orchestral works of Bartók continued here and included two engrossing and memorable performances.

Beethoven’s lyrical and poetic Fourth Concerto received a wide-ranging account from the voluble and demonstrative Goode. He was always ‘inside’ the music and presented its interior with sensitivity and strength, the latter quality spilling over into a lustiness that equated to ‘living life’ rather than parading a technique. It was indeed the various modulations of mood that made this performance so fresh and new-minted; however many times Goode has played this work, there was no suggestion of routine. Although he clarified much detail (especially in the woodwinds) there can seem something occasionally too ‘designed’ about Fischer’s conducting, and not quite as absorbed as Goode’s response, although Fischer’s lucid approach was more in the Fourth’s favour than not. The curt strings of the Andante were tamed by the simplest of refrains from Goode, and the finale had a sparkle that was irresistible.

Bartók’s Music for strings, percussion and celesta was given a minutely prepared performance, the slow movements seamlessly sounded and journeyed to climax, and with much variety of texture and tone colour; and the fast movements had a fire and precision that was scintillating, the second movement’s occasionally awkward tempo-changes aside, and with a finale whose dance rhythms had a foot-tapping vitality and a cumulative emotional intensity.

Beforehand, with the strings arranged into two orchestras for the Bartók (the piano, harp, celesta and timpani in the foreground separating the string bands, the rest of the percussion centrally behind, in keeping with Bartók’s requirements), came Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. Originally the finale of the B flat String Quartet (Opus 130), then replaced and published separately, playing quartet-music on a string orchestra may seem a logical extension (just add double basses), but it rarely works, and didn’t here. Massed strings impart a ‘serenade’ character to solo-string music, hardly appropriate for Grosse Fuge. Conductors such as Furtwängler, Klemperer, Ansermet and Konwitschny have left us ‘mighty’ recordings of this astonishingly ‘modern’ music, but Fischer, while obviously aware of Beethoven’s uncompromising ‘vision’, rather scampered through the music, it even appeared jaunty, and invalidated the one-to-a-part struggle that Beethoven surely intended and which a corporate response minimises.

The Budapest Festival Orchestra’s strings were not always pristine in the Grosse Fuge, but played the encore with heartfelt beauty, a Brahms Hungarian Dance (No.14, and very precisely introduced as such by Fischer), in presumably Fischer’s own scoring, and the full orchestra were wholly identified in the opening Hungarian Sketches; sometimes Fischer seems to underline points to no great effect, but the acuity of the musicians’ response is total.

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