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Maria João Pires suddenly fell ill, which disrupted the programme, but Iván Fischer provided the audience – obviously looking forward to the Portuguese pianist’s performance – with ample compensation in the shape of Dénes Várjon, her understudy, and the bonus of Anna Lucia Richter (fidelio.hu)

Instead of Chopin’s piano concerto (Op. 21), Mozart’s piano concerto (K. 456). I think this change calms down even the most fanatic of Chopin enthusiasts. Dénes Várjon instead of Maria João Pires. If somebody has lost any sleep over this, it is their own fault, since the two artists even have something in common with their play. The way Várjon touches the keys is as meticulous and contemplative as his Portuguese colleague.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto in B major (K 456), just like any of his other instrumental pieces, is actually an opera, in which vocal parts are replaced by instruments. Mozart is a storyteller, and in this piece the narrator happens to be a piano. The Andante in the middle is framed by two allegro vivace movements. The production by Fischer and the BFO is very authentic, rivalling that of historical performances. Authenticity, however, does not mean historical exactitude. Quite the contrary, it is the declaration of transforming Mozart’s music from the source of pure aesthetic pleasure to existential experience. I know there is a rational explanation; still I am always enchanted by the way the Festival Orchestra displays the subdued colours of autumn in the Mozartean gaiety and drama.

Fischer nimbly skips from the cheerful to the melancholic mood, always infusing one into the other. The serious playfulness of Mozart’s rhythmic genius is richly articulated by the BFO. Those movements are especially touching where the vivid and truly vivace syncopated rhythms are unexpectedly overcast with chromatic clouds, expressing the “melancholic charm” of the piece. Charles Rosen’s eloquent expression holds true for the musical climate of the entire evening.

The sweet-sorrow sensation of life culminates in the second andante movement. It’s familiar, isn’t it? Barbarina’s aria beginning with L’ho perduto (I have lost…) in the Marriage of Figaro is born from this two years later, which is one of the shortest and saddest arias in the world. Dénes Várjon plays an ethereal melody, which even evokes associations with Chopin. Some might regard his play as extremely delicate, but the way he touches the keys lacks all affectation. It is disputable, however, as to whether he took full advantage of the dynamics in Mozart’s piece. One thing is for sure though, he certainly wasn’t arranging a stunt. And with the BFO, he proved to be perfectly compatible.

Just like the 22-year-old Anna Lucia Richter, who performed as a bonus for the audience. The young soprano was apparently discovered by Iván Fischer only a few weeks earlier, and he was right to introduce her to the Hungarian audience. It is unbelievable that somebody with such a lithe and slim figure can have such a firm, powerful and reedy voice. The aria, composed by Mozart for Paisiello’s The Barber of Seville, in accordance with the traditions of the time, could have been a success in The Abduction from the Seraglio too. Anna Lucia sang the technically challenging aria with graceful confidence. It is no coincidence that in the last five years this girl from Cologne has won all sorts of awards in rapid succession.

The concert did not actually begin with this cheerful tone. The evening was opened with Threnos, a composition by Sándor Veress. Sándor Veress learnt how to compose music and play the piano from Kodály and Bartók respectively. After he became a master, he taught Kurtág and Ligeti. Outside of the profession, only a few people know about his talent today, despite the fact he was once so popular that he was the second to receive the Kossuth Prize after Kodály. In 1949 he emigrated to Switzerland, which resulted not only in a change of location but also style. His contrapunctal thinking developed into a dodecaphonic approach.

Threnos (a threnody) was written in Hungary, in 1945. Although the subtitle is In memoriam Béla Bartók, the monumental music of sorrow may also be interpreted as a lamentation about European culture ravaged by the war. The well-constructed music, comprising folk motifs, Bartókian references (the cry in the minor third of The Miraculous Mandarin) and snippets of the melodious and symphonic tradition, was played by conductor Iván Fischer and the musicians of the BFO with a hypnotic effect. He conducted not the orchestra, but our attention.

The strings’ tragic melody emerging from the tom-toms of the timpani was accompanied by the funeral march of the brasses, after which the painful sighs of the solo bass clarinet and the solo oboe led up to the tutti with three great and supreme peaks. In general, Samuel Barber’s Adagio is considered the saddest music in the world. Though this is not a competition, Veress’s Threnos wins the day. As interpreted by Iván Fischer and the BFO, sadness is a long-enduring giant.

The last piece of the concert is the work of two composers. Seeing the statue in the marble, Schönberg arranged Brahms’s Piano Quartet in G minor (Op.25) for a grandiose symphony orchestra. Two-sidedness runs through the entire piece of music. Cheer and gloominess alternate, developing into alarums and excursions in the andante movement in which the various sections seem to fight each other. Beethovenian and Wagnerian moments prevail until the instrumental arsenal of the fourth movement, Rondo alla Zingarese, explodes with the fast tempo dictated by Fischer. Towards the end, the music becomes a grotesque vision due to the danse macabre of the clarinet and the violin, and the audience do not know whether to laugh or cry. Though it seems that Fischer would rather opt for the former.