Proms 2011 – Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer – Liszt & Mahler, Dejan Lazić plays Totentanz & Lady Gaga Fugue

Zwei Episoden aus Lenaus Faust – Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke (Mephisto Waltz No.1)
Symphony No.1

Dejan Lazić (piano)

Budapest Festival Orchestra
Iván Fischer

Reviewed by: Mark Valencia

Reviewed: 2 September, 2011
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Dejan Lazić. Photograph: Susie KnollIt was easy to tell which Prom-goers have children around the house. When Dejan Lazić launched into his encore, the Royal Albert Hall audience divided into those who instantly identified Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance (given the Bach treatment by Giovanni Dettori and the moniker of Lady Gaga Fugue) and everyone else for whom the smug chuckles of recognition remained a mystery until they could collar someone in the know. (Like me, thanks kids!) Lazić had just completed a debonair performance of Liszt’s firecracker Totentanz. The Croatian is an artist of such precision that he practically touch-types at the keyboard, playing with a refinement that recalls the young Michel Dalberto but with added wit – happily so, as a sense of humour is invaluable when making a case for this set of variations on the ‘Dies irae’ plainchant, a rhapsody on a theme of death spiced with a nod from the Devil. It’s a catchpenny idea that outstays its welcome even at fifteen minutes, and despite the sprightly advocacy of Lazić and Iván Fischer, its impact was shallow: a triumph of orchestration over contemplation.

Iván Fischer. Photograph: Budapest Festival OrchestraThe Devil is very much at the helm in the Mephisto Waltz. This is a more substantial creation than Totentanz: a brief but densely-packed episode that revisits Liszt’s endless fascination with the Faust legend. The Budapest Festival Orchestra’s febrile introduction on low strings heralded a series of brief melodic strands that took their time to build up through a range of colours until the whirling, frenzied climax. The work’s middle section anticipates Tchaikovsky in its momentum, while in the later pages (depicting erotic dances at the village inn) its untidy construction was convincingly disentangled by Fischer and his disciplined Hungarian players.

Blumine, the discarded second movement from Mahler’s First Symphony, provided a moment of repose and enchantment. The solo trumpeter sat amid the horn players and wistfully wove his romantic melody. As for the parent work, Fischer’s reading was notable for the prevalence of mezzo-piano as his dynamic of choice. This was not a frenetic First but a dapper, controlled reading entirely devoid of vulgarity, even during the inner movements where a spot of earthiness would have released a few more musical endorphins. As it was, every section of the orchestra played like a cluster of precious stones, with a polish that was sparkling and beautiful but also self-contained and inorganic. For much of the symphony’s duration one marvelled at the exquisite sound but longed for something more spirited to cut through; and in the finale it did. At Mahler’s direction Stürmisch bewegt (‘tempestuously’), Fischer tore the lid off Mahler’s orchestration and set its colours free to roar through the Royal Albert Hall. The spick-‘n’-span reading that had gone before gave way to a showbiz ending as Fischer beckoned not just the horns (requested in the score) but the entire brass contingent (not marked) to its feet for that closing flourish. Too little too late, but a tingle moment even so.

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