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Budapest Festival Orchestra soloists and celebrated pianist Jenő Jandó thrilled the Library of Congress audience with “The Liszt Legacy and Béla Bartók" concert last night.

And one of the most thrilling moments was the return to a Washington stage by renowned maestro Iván Fischer, former music director of the National Symphony Orchestra (2008-2010), and founder-music director of the Budapest Festival Orchestra.

Fischer introduced the Bartók program by saying,”I have always dreamed that once in my life, I would stand on the very stage where Bela Bartok once played.” Like many other Hungarian musicians, Fischer was “brought up with” Bartok’s recording of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata, recorded live on April 13, 1940 at the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium.

“It’s a fantastically emotional experience to share this stage with Béla Bartók,” Fischer said as he looked heavenward.

The conductor added that the soloists “have the privilege of playing on period instruments from the Library’s collection” (Stradivari, Amati, Guarneri), an extraordinary experience.”

“Because of the turbulent history of our country, instruments were destroyed,” Fischer lamented. “Usually, the musicians’ human quality is far above the quality of the instruments.”

Fischer outlined the four-part structure of the program he put together: “Bartók the teacher, who cared very much about education, and created many compositions for educational purposes; a researcher who traveled around Hungary collecting folkloric songs; ‘Contrasts’ exemplifies Bartók’s modern style compositions in the USA, his second home and final home (Bartok’s last position was at Columbia University); and a rarity — a composition from his very early years — he was a Romantic composer before he found his modern language. We admire this,” Fischer said.

The audience most enjoyed, if not most admired the Romantic piece, Quintet for two violins, viola, cello and piano. The rich, lush work swept widely from poignant to mysterious to rousing to folkloric.

The virtuosity was absolutely extraordinary, especially in the Quintet and also in “Contrasts” for clarinet, violin and piano.

In addition to Jandó’s exceptional mastery throughout the evening, in “Contrasts”, Ákos Ács seemed to play the clarinet superhumanly yet effortlessly. And István Kádár played not one but two violins, switching swiftly and seamlessly between one tuned for folk music and a classically tuned violin. In the score, Bartók specified two such violins.

At the concert’s conclusion, the audience sprang to their feet and yelped, whooped, as well as cheered and clapped.

The free concert, “The Liszt Legacy and Béla : Soloists from the Budapest Festival Orchestra with Pianist Jenő Jandó”, was part of the Library of Congress’ Franz Liszt Bicentenary Project, which showcases the Library’s extensive Liszt holdings — the largest outside of Hungary. Several of his manuscripts were displayed outside the Coolidge Auditorium.

As we know, Liszt, whose 200th birthday was October 22, and Bartók were two of Hungary’s greatest composers.

Liszt’s legacy looms large. As “pianist, composer, teacher, conductor, writer and musical administrator, he enlarged everything he touched,” wrote biographer Alan Walker in his three-volume “Franz Liszt” (Knopf).

In Bartók’s biographical sketch in 1921, he wrote that Liszt’s legacy had considerable influence on his earliest composing, from about 1899-1903, and later he grew to realize Liszt’s “true significance for the development of modern music.”

The spectacular chamber music concert was sponsored by the Embassy of Hungary.Ambassador György Szapáry hosted an elegant dinner in honor of maestro Fischer and the musicians at the ambassador’s residence (once the home of John Edwards, before his run for president.)

Fischer told me at the dinner, “I am extremely proud of my musicians. They played top quality chamber music.”

He added, “It was an extraordinary opportunity to play on those rare Italian instruments. It’s something they will remember all their life.”

But I had to ask the maestro whether he missed the National Symphony Orchesra, now that he is also the music director of the Konzerthaus Berlin, and principal conductor of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin.

“Of course I miss them. This trip is absolutely wonderful because it’s like coming home. I like Washington, the community has lots of great music and music lovers.”

But back to Budapest. Fischer, as well as Ambassador Szapáry, compared the Budapest Festival Orchestra to an American success story.

Fischer who founded the Budapest Festival Orchestra with Zoltán Kocsis in 1983, said “It’s a real American success story — from Eastern Europe. We started with nothing and now it’s most successful, like the racehorse Overdose.” The Hungarian thoroughbred Overdose is that country’s Seabiscuit.

“Gramophone Magazine” has ranked the Budapest Festival Orchestra among the world’s best orchestras.

Fischer will conduct the Budapest Festival Orchestra and famed (Hungarian) pianist András Schiff in a Bartók and Schubert  program tonight at Kennedy Center, and at Carnegie Hall on October 28 and October 29.

Marscha Dubrov, Examiner