Switch to mobile view
Trumpets and Demons - Prom 63 Mahler 1, Liszt Fischer

After the political remonstrations and lacklustre playing of the previous evening, Iván Fischer and his Budapest Festival Orchestra were a terrific shot in the arm. Showcasing music with Hungarian history, Fischer brought fresh readings to familiar works and set the bar dizzingly high for the final week of the season.

The first Mephisto Waltz proffered immediate fire. An excitingly raspy tone, surging dynamics and manic relish suited this devilish dance down to the ground. But there was sweetness too. And in both the waltz and Mahler’s discarded Blumine movement (originally part of the 1st Symphony), the BFO placed an aural glow around every note.

There was nothing balmy about Dejan Laziæ’s performance of Liszt’s Totentanz. Although the work itself is too cyclical, Laziæ played each variation with requisite verve. High theatrical accompaniment from the orchestra and staggering virtuosity gave life to this relentless ‘Dies irae’. The audience wowed, Laziæ capitalised on their enjoyment by offering the YouTube hit Lady Gaga Fugue as an encore.

After the interval, Fischer was in serious mode. The podium had been discarded. Clearly he knew his way around Mahler’s 1st Symphony. While some would find his approach a little mannered, he had prepared meticulously for every colour and climax. As such they sounded newly-minted. The opening movement had a wonderful air of laissez faire, while the Ländler was pungently bucolic. Cadences were placed with purpose. All the space and punctuation lacking from Mehta’s direction the previous evening found a vivid repost in Fischer’s grasp of his material.

The funeral march offered a showcase for contrasting style and sentiment. Irony wasn given free rein and snarling woodwind cut through the texture. But there was also longing here, heard in the hushed throb of the strings’ passage from ‘Die zwei blauen Augen’. After the march snuk out, Fischer unleashed a torrent of sound for the finale. After Rattle’s rather held-back rendition exactly a year ago at this address, it was thrilling to hear a performance that embraced the work’s lust for life. As horns, brass and finally woodwind stood in the final fanfares, the audience went wild. Together, style and substance deliver stunning results.

Gavin Plumley, Entartete Musik (blog)