Royal Festival Hall, London
Use the word "radical" in criticism and some will think you mean a forceful overhaul of existing performance practice or interpretative tradition. But radicalism can be just as transforming when discreet, and such was the case with Iván Fischer's performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the closing work of their latest London concert.
Rimsky’s great evocation of The Thousand and One Nights is usually treated as an extrovert orchestral showstopper. Fischer, in contrast, turns it in upon itself in order to emphasise its mystery and wonder. The famous depiction of Sinbad’s ship heaving on the ocean is usually treated as menacing, though Fischer, carefully controlling its dynamic swell, presents it as the low-key start of a gradually unfolding journey through the human imagination. We’re reminded that the framing narrative is a love story, first reflected in the burgeoning eroticism of The Young Prince and the Princess, before reaching its resolution in the work’s reconciliatory postlude. The BFO is one of the great orchestras and the playing was exceptional, with the all-important violin and harp solos exquisitely done, and everything down to the Kalandar Prince’s nostalgic woodwind beautifully shaped and shaded.
There were wonders in the first half, too. The concert opened with a performance of Brahms’s Tragic Overture, which attained often alarming levels of intensity towards its close. This was followed by Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole with Renaud Capuçon as soloist. The work is considered fluff in some quarters; here we had the full measure of the seriousness behind its grace and wit. Capuçon played with virile agility and tremendous nobility of tone. Fischer teased out the beauties of Lalo’s orchestration with immense subtlety. A great concert.