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The concert of the BUDAPEST FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA at the beginning of the month could easily be called a surprise concert, with MARC MINKOWSKI as the guest conductor, and French compositions taken – loosely – from the beginning of the 20th century on the programme. Three composers of significantly differing character and significance and three compositions of various genres, proving Minkowski's wide-ranging interests.

The first piece on the programme was Fauré’s 4-movement suite, Pelléas and Mélisande, which he collated in 1900 from the incidental music composed two years previously to the Maeterlinck drama. Minkowski created a genuine, natural atmosphere as early as the starting bars in pianissimo, his calmness spread to the orchestra, which played the fascinating movement with touching tenderness and an excellent sense of colours. The second movement was characterised by an ethereal vibration, the portrait of Mélisande at the spinning wheel, played by the ever-moving, muted first violins. After the song-like, idyllic Sicilienne, in the Molto adagio final movement mourning Mélisande, Minkowski elicited a monumental intensification followed by another spiritual piano from the orchestra, with soft, sharp sounds played by the bassoons.

The main surprise elements of the concert I referred to above were Poulenc’s Concerto in D minor for Two Pianos and Orchestra and the two great soloists. The double concerto is a completely witty, brilliant composition, sometimes sounding naive other times sounding extremely sophisticated – offering rewarding opportunities for the two soloists. The partiture is influenced by various styles and musical languages, from the Baroque keyboard music through Gershwin to jazz and Stravinsky, and all this with its diverse and frivolous character is made into a unique language with elegance and professionalism. The two soloists, DAVID CADOUCH and GUILLAUME VINCENT provided a virtuoso performance in perfect harmony and in sync with each other in technical terms, on the other hand they were the accomplices of the composer, they nearly looked out at the audience, winking at them, indicating the invisible inverted commas in music. They used all means available to underline, highlight, represent and explain the intellectual but irresistible humour of Poulenc. And playing semi-seriously, Minkowski and the Festival Orchestra contributed significantly to this carefree game with maximum accuracy.

After the first two pieces of the concert, Albert Roussel’s Symphony No. 4 composed in 1934 exerted a somewhat academic effect on the audience. The piece is proportionate, its orchestration and dramaturgy are elaborate and effective, but not too original – it must have been the chance for a meticulous performance that was attractive, appealing and interesting to Minkowski in this case. Undoubtedly, the traditionally structured symphony of 4 movements was performed with the utmost care and accuracy. The sound of the orchestra was balanced and powerful in the opening movement, and if the impact was bombastic here and there this was certainly not their fault. The most attractive parts of the symphony were the two inner movements: the emotional slow movement appeared to be genuine, the rich orchestration was masterly with a touch of the grotesque and sour in the richly coloured, deep register of the double basses. In the scherzo, which is reminiscent of a soundtrack, witty metric tricks gave a special flavour to the music and the performance. If we consider the whole piece as the example of orchestral playfulness, we can surely deem it perfect.

(3 November – Béla Bartók National Concert Hall. Organised by: the Budapest Festival Orchestra)

JÁNOS MALINA