BARTÓK MARATHON-PALACE OF ARTS (MÜPA)
Overcrowded, hustle and bustle, people elbowing their way through the crowd. Not always can they get to the place they want to. The only reason they don't tread on others is that every stain looks horrible on the trousers, so one has to be careful. Intense atmosphere, youthful momentum, dynamism, a pinch of Iván Fischer. It's a great Bartók Marathon at the Palace of Arts – what else?
For years the Festival Orchestra has been in the habit of making us all run marathons, until we reach the musical saturation point. This year we failed to reach it. Why? Because the more Bartók you listen to, the more you’ll miss it. I started to develop withdrawal symptoms on the tram on my way home. The next morning I felt like starting off to listen to the next Bartók Marathon. Where was Violin Concerto No. 2, The Wooden Prince, Cantata Profana, Hungarian Sketches, Allegro Barbaro? Even the “Best of Bartók” would take at least a week to listen to. But who would have the money and the bow to do it? So, we were happy to see what we could, where we managed to get into, and in the festival atmosphere, on the stairs with a sandwich we wished we could take off our suits.
In the morning we received Violin Concerto No. 1 and Concerto for Orchestra performed by the MÁV Symphony Orchestra. Violin Concerto No. 1 is an overwhelming love song blended with some sorrowful Hungarian sentiments, youthful dynamics, the reflection of the respectful passion Bartók felt for Stefi Geyer, a violinist. Allegedly, Bartók intended the concerto to be a gift rather than a significant piece of his oeuvre. It was Violin Concerto No. 2 that heralded the era of great pieces and was the first in his chronology. This was followed by Concerto, the ironic, painful masterpiece of Bartók living in the US and longing for home in his late years. In the Concerto he quoted “Hungary, you are beautiful and splendid” (a patriotic song from an operetta, The Bride of Hamburg by Vincze composed in the 1920s) and he included a Shostakovich-parody, as well. The last movements are characterised by the duality of a pulsating harshness, superficiality and homesickness.
After this, those holding tickets went to listen to Mikrokosmos, and we watched a recording of Bluebeard’s Castle from 1981 featuring Kolos Kováts, as a calm Duke. Sylvia Sass enwreathes the emotionless, tranquil Duke as an erotic, feminine serpent. Judit was going to open the seventh door when we had to dash off to see the next concert. On the stairs of the National Concert Hall there is a huge queue. They wouldn’t let me pass to go to the toilet. They think I want to jump the queue. I have a ticket, I have a seat, but it does not matter. You have to survive a stampede for Bartók.
And here comes Divertimento, and the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. According to Lutoslawski this was the most genial composition of Bartók. Lutoslawski distinguishes between the folklorist and the genius of 20th century modern music. He pays tribute to the latter. I manage to get into the concert hall to hear the piano pieces. And once again I am fascinated with the scoreless tranquillity and professionalism of Dénes Várjon. I still remember him play Piano Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich: the speed made his hands virtually invisible. He feels Bartók, accentuates, pulsates, tortures and strokes the piano. I do not know how he does it, it is simply a pleasure to listen to. By the way, speed: there is no pause, the audience is called from the National Concert Hall to the Festival Theatre and back. Those who are hungry tuck into a sandwich on the way between the two venues.
Zoltán Kocsis keeps pace with the intense pulsation of the marathon, he calls upon the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra to show us a circus stunt. They play the Kossuth Symphony, and get it over with in no time. Subtleties, moods, sentiments linger on, but everything happens incredibly fast. Or this tempo is simply a tribute to Bartók, who never really liked this composition. He wasn’t happy either when Dohnányi wanted to put it on the programme. He thought it was full of frills lingering from Romanticism. He did not want to become a great composer the way Richard Strauss did. But he was overwhelmed with passion when he was in his 20s and composed a piece, which by the way is brilliant. The hatred towards Emperor Franz Joseph, the distorted version of the German anthem and the glorious Kossuth march conquers the ear in no time. Nevertheless, he is not a Romantic composer. Full stop.
And of course, there is the Piano Concerto No. 3. The great farewell. An elderly man sitting next to me whispers to his grandson: the second movement is a prayer. He cries and blows his nose through the whole movement. I want to cry with him. I was crying inside. A beautiful moment. This is followed immediately by the “infernal music”, the Miraculous Mandarin Suite, the contentious piece. The whole row I am sitting in is shaking. The young guy feels like he is at a rock concert. Even his ticket falls off the stage balcony. Healthy music generates healthy euphoria. We need this energy.
And last but not least, Bluebeard’s Castle à la Iván Fischer. The maestro starts out as a ringmaster. He narrates the prologue, facing the audience, raises his baton with his back to the orchestra, and the play begins. Minimalist scenery, oratorical performance. We are witnessing a miracle again. I am getting a bit tired. I am looking at Bartók’s portrait, twinkling, it is a bit frightening. I don’t know why. Maybe this strange state of mind, being half asleep is a sign of my total immersion in Bartók’s universe. He rules over me. I am so lucky it is him.