Budapest Festival Orchestra

Symphonic Minutes, Op.36
Piano Concerto No.3
The Rite of Spring

Garrick Ohlsson (piano)

Budapest Festival Orchestra
Iván Fischer

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 16 August, 2006
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

On paper the first half of this concert was one of the more intriguing of the Proms season in terms of programming – contrasting two pieces by Hungarian composers who both experienced exile from their native land during the Second World War. One of the most fascinating things was that the two pieces were composed within a 12-year period and yet both are remarkably different in idiom, and when contrasted with the earlier-composed The Rite of Spring felt rather Romantic.

Ernö Dohnányi’s Symphonic Minutes are a most attractive set of five miniatures that allow all the sections of the orchestra to shine, and they reveal the composer to be an expert and imaginative orchestrator. Woodwinds shine in the opening ‘Capriccio’ – and there is also much intricate filigree detail – and they then get the opportunity to each demonstrate their prowess in the following ‘Rapsodia’ where the flutes voice a languid theme on a cushion of string sound, then the oboe is supported on a bed of harmonious brass, and then the lower woodwinds are again comforted by the strings. After the generally rumbustious ‘Scherzo’ there was the appealing calm of a ‘Theme and Variations’ beginning with a lovely ascending melody, voiced initially in the strings and then passed around – memorably to the brass. A propulsive and energetic ‘Rondo’ ends the work.

Iván Fischer led his players through a spirited performance and allowed this little taster of Dohnányi’s to make its fullest impact. His music does not get much of an airing these days, even his Variations on a Nursery Song, and more performances are to be hoped for.

Following was more familiar fare, Bartók’s Piano Concerto No.3. Many of us will have grown up with Géza Anda’s recorded performances of Bartók’s piano concertos (Ferenc Fricsay conducting) on Deutsche Grammophon LPs. (Anda was a pupil of Ernö Dohnányi’s.) In this performance the soloist was Garrick Ohlsson, who has all the technical mastery needed for the piece and who evidently had a good rapport with both conductor and orchestra. It was a shame that the sprightly first movement’s quiet close should have been disturbed by a loud and unfortunately timed cough, and even more so that these interruptions continued into the rapt Adagio. In this second movement the initial conversation between piano and orchestra was nicely judged, although Ohlsson was just a little prosaic and missed the soul of the writing, and which the orchestra has in its bones. The finale brought a more spirited collaboration. (The BFO and Fischer play this concerto again at the Edinburgh International Festival on 23 August with Richard Goode as soloist.)

In The Rite of Spring, Fischer was neither as tightly coiled nor as controlled as Boulez is or as unpredictable as Gergiev can be; indeed his was a surprisingly quixotic reading of this still-astonishing score. The Budapest Festival Orchestra’s horns relished their calls in ‘Glorification of the Chosen One’, as did, again, the various woodwind soloists – cor anglais and bassoon in particular. Fischer was exacting with the dynamic range and this was a realisation that, unlike many concert-hall performances, had one imagining dancers!

One might not have thought that an encore was either necessary or advisable but the BFO ushered in a very lively version of Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No.6 – as orchestrated by Iván Fischer – and followed this with some Transylvanian folk-music played by a string trio.

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