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A Budapesti Fesztiválzenekar a Festival Hallban

Is there a London-based symphony orchestra that could convincingly spend a late hour with their maestro interspersing the audience’s musical choices with folk fiddles, didgeridoo, body percussion, and the kind of good cheer that cannot be manufactured? Maybe the BBC Concert Orchestra after a few beers — though they’d still be far from the family warmth and polish of the incredible Budapest Festival Orchestra and their founding conductor, Iván Fischer.

Friday’s late evening “Audience Choice” Prom — we chose Kodály, Bartók, Stravinsky, Glinka, Berlioz, and Josef Strauss — was enjoyable enough. But to hear them play Mahler’s visionary First Symphony, as they did earlier, was to enter Heaven’s gates. Half the joy lay in Fischer’s mastery of lingering transitions and tiered climaxes. From the opening rustles of spring onwards every movement made sense, even the tricky finale, so easily collapsed into fragments. And the playing had such individual character, silky one moment, feral the next, and always close to Mahler’s Bohemian roots. The best Mahler First I’ve ever heard; I’d give them a sixth star.

Everything else in the concert was almost as energetically projected. The Croatian pianist Dejan Lazic splendidly thundered and tinkled in Liszt’s Totentanz. I’m not so sure about his mock-Bach encore on a theme of Lady Gaga, though it was certainly cute (…).

Geoff Brown, The Times