Budapest Festival Orchestra at Festival Hall
Cold lashing winds, persistent rain: Sunday night in London was a night for hiding under the duvet. But I had to venture forth: the Bupadest Festival Orchestra and Iván Fischer were appearing, and the very first bar of Brahms' s Tragic Overture gave me ample reward.
It wasn’t just the composer’s opening chords, jagged as lightning. It was the orchestra’s very sound: that earthy, sparkling, urgent, perfectly balanced Budapest sound, so different from the impersonal corporate gloss that blankets many major orchestras. I would listen to Fischer’s orchestra play anything, even the telephone directory, even knotty Brian Ferneyhough, even Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.
Which they eventually did. Normally this picturesque warhorse rubs me the wrong way, but the massage Fischer’s musicians supplied to its oriental fripperies left both work and listener glowing. Rimsky’s famous orchestration skills were proved time and again in the violins’ whispering silver tremolos, the solo woodwinds’ piquant traceries, the burnished brass fanfares, the cellos’ limber arpeggios.
I never fidgeted during the constant recycling of Scheherazade’s theme, despatched with lively character and subtlety by first violinist Violetta Eckhardt, with Ágnes Polónyi’s harp rippling its own beauties on the conductor’s other side. Thanks to Fischer’s care and the players’ passion, everything in Rimsky’s creation emerged fresh, necessary and beautiful.
The Tragic Overture was also enlivened, propelled forward by a degree of nervous energy rarely summoned in performances of Brahms. If this was tragedy, give me more. Following that, the temperature rose further in Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole, an old concert favourite, now a rare visitor in Britain.
Any gathering dust was blown away in this gorgeous performance from violin soloist Renaud Capuçon (laidback in manner, but so nimble, so fiery) and Fischer’s terrific band. Colourful musicianship, happy tunes, a furious encore from Dohnányi’s Symphonic Minutes: I came out singing in the rain.