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The Budapest Festival Orchestra has had its first concert of the year at the Palace of Arts: the pieces chosen for the three concerts at the end of last week were also intended to welcome in the New Year.

We were at the Friday performance, which was given an unusual start by music director Iván Fischer: before the first piece, the orchestra’s winds played a ragtime song for a few minutes. It sounded great, and was a nice idea for the somewhat belated New Year’s concert; likewise the choice of the first piece, Shostakovich’s so-called Suite for Jazz No. 2, the orchestral work from the Russian master’s film music, presumably written in the 1950s, with a bit of animated madness and some funny gags. Research revealed that there was a “real” second suite too, which was lost, and this piece was later given this name by mistake; the new credible name of the work is Suite for Variety Orchestra. Regardless, it is a work rich in musical ideas, happiness and lyricism, and the orchestra gave a bubbly, energetic and precise performance.

This was followed by a piece whose original soloist presumably attracted almost the entire full-house that evening – but Dutch violinist Janine Jansen had to cancel her appearance due to illness. Her place was taken by Liza Ferschtman, another Dutch musician – but with Russian roots – who played Bernstein’s Serenade. The quasi violin concerto is in fact based on the programme music of Plato’s dialogue ‘Symposium’ – fitting in nicely again with the New Year theme, though the original which dissects the nature of love would be somewhat tricky to squeeze in here – a genuine creation of the mid-20th century, with strange timbres and virtuoso solo sections. Ferschtman excellently played the sometimes “drunken”, sometimes daydreaming and sometimes suggestive violin part – the fourth movement was simply beautiful lyrical music, conveyed fantastically well. Not even the “crackling” sound from the orchestra’s cellists disrupted the rapture.

After the interval, the concert continued with Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2; many have often said that while this is a 20th century piece – completed in Dresden in 1908 – it does in fact have its roots in the 19th century. Ultimately it was written during the happy peaceful times, at the end of the “long 19th century”, though new trends were emerging then, especially in the west. But this symphony is a genuinely neo-romantic journey, a classical pearl, the continuation of Russian symphonic traditions in sonata form, with recurring motifs and the scherzo as the second movement. Is this perhaps the winding, quietening down after New Year in the concert programme? Maybe. But the last bars in the finale, reminiscent somewhat of Wagner – with huge brass parts – wakes us up from our daydreaming, and what is also certain is that the seemingly strange programme pairing completely different pieces of music together was indeed a great idea.