There was so much to like about the Budapest Festival Orchestra starting with the way they were led on by their Leader. The men wore dinner jackets rather than the long tailed coats of tradition. The ladies of whom there were many, including the leader and her number two, wore black trousers and tops in the main. For the Beethoven the string section was greatly reduced and the trumpets and horns changed to natural instruments without valves or keys. Even the percussionist moved to a simpler older style two timpani set-up.
Fischer’s positioning of his forces was interesting even if it was occasioned by the Anvil’s somewhat cramped platform. He had first and second violins, at the front on opposites sides of him. The Cello’s were on the left and the violas on the right and the double basses on whom we had eight ranged along the back row behind the woodwind. Even from where we sat just behind the back desk of the first violins it was a more balanced sound. I like the bass to come from the middle rather from the far right end as usual.
There playing was very, very good – almost flawless and Fischer looked to me the perfect conductor. He was obviously in charge but needed no histrionics to achieve his ends. It all seemed so well rehearsed and so different from regular British orchestras who sometimes seem to be making it up as they go along.
The program was also interesting but more challenging than the previous week’s Czech affair. Fischer didn’t load his programme with Hungarian music although we started with Symphonic Minutes from Dohnanyi. He was Hungarian but not obviously so in the fashion of Bartok or Kodaly. The Beethoven piano concerto came next and after the interval Fischer chose Brahm’s fourth symphony. This is regarded by many as Brahm’s greatest piece and the third movement marked allegro jiacoso showed the orchestra at their finest.
A great concert, but do I have any reservations? Well yes I do. They had all played at the South Bank the previous night and played Bartok’s wonderful concerto for orchestra instead of the Brahms. If I had been programming the concert I would have put in a Bartok piano concerto for them to get their teeth into. If the best Hungarian musicians don’t showcase the best Hungarian music then who will? Even Fischer’s encore of a Brahms Hungarian Dance (no.11) was only as slight sop to us as many people would claim it is not Hungarian at all but poshed up Gyspy music, but one could not deny it was beautifully played and I for one will not complain about any amount on Brahms.