The BFO – big and small
The Budapest Festival Orchestra played two programmes in about a week. From 7 November, two romantic pieces and a Mozart piano concerto were performed four times at the Music Academy, while on 16 and 17 November the early music group of the orchestra played in the Italian Cultural Institute. Both programmes starred a renowned musician as guest performer (papiruszportal.hu, Lehotka Ildikó)
The concert at the Music Academy opened with Liszt’s Mazeppa (I attended the performance on 8 November), a symphonic piece of poetry based on Victor Hugo’s poem, although Byron also published a work under the same title. Even French painters found inspiration in Mazeppa. Hugo’s poem does not deal with antecedents, Mazeppa is roped to a horse because it transpired that he had eyes for a married woman. Liszt dedicated the (sixth) symphonic poem to Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. Liszt previously composed and reworked an étude several times, which was finally included in the series of Transcendental Études entitled Mazeppa.
The Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Gábor Takács Nagy gave a fine performance, which was nevertheless far from outstanding. Tempos could have been more vehement in some places, the proportion of the tones did not seem ideal either, perhaps due to the new location, and the irresistible momentum was also missing.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C major (Lützow, KV 246) is rarely performed, it certainly does not abound in technical difficulties, it was written by the composer at a young age for Antonia Lützow. This time, the solo was played by Mikhail Pletnev, almost perfectly. Pletnev conducted the BFO several times, but I have never heard him as a soloist. He is a great pianist too. I was enchanted by the perfect control over the volume of the two hands’ music material; the piece created an unusual atmosphere in this way. Pletnev’s pauses are telling, he always waits for the very last moment to enter, generating gratifying tension, the way he touches the keys is full of colour, his ritardandos are just perceivable, his pianos are fantastic. He played Chopin’s Nocturne in D-flat major as an encore with impressive poetry. Both pieces remain unforgettable.
Mendelssohn’s symphonies are less frequently included in programmes than they would deserve, the performance of Symphony No. 5 (in D major, Op. 107) provided great joy to the audience and the performers alike. Mendelssohn composed his piece called the Reformation Symphony when he was 21, and eight years later he said he could not stand it. The orchestra of the Conservatoire refused to premiere the composition, and even critics responded to it without much enthusiasm.
The audience was able to enjoy a very insightful concert with excellent tempos and melodies, evoking pathos and elevation not only due to the “Dresden amen” also used by Wagner. The cello part in the slow introduction of the opening movement was beautiful, then came the strings, and the aforementioned amen motif was played wonderfully softly. The mystically sounding strings in the fast part (Allegro con fuoco) (with the woodwinds) must be highlighted, the composition progressed by utilising the great dynamic contrasts of emotions (the dramatic music material alongside the range of piano dynamics). The Scherzo is not the same fairy music as the one Mendelssohn outlined in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but the characters are nice, lovable and well-defined. The trickling, sometimes melancholic Andante movement was characterised by the full sound and truly beautiful tone of the strings and the fine choral melody of the flute. We can speak of the final movement in glowing terms as well. It was a great performance, the way Gábor Takács Nagy rendered the piece left no doubts about the composition’s grandeur.
The Baroque music concert on 16 November, with the contribution of outstanding pianist Jos van Immerseel, had a chamber-like character. The programme enticed audiences by offering five pieces written by five composers, including the famous 8-movement Battalia (The Battle) by Biber and Monteverdi’s Battle of Tancredi and Clorinda as a finale. Besides the two pieces displaying battles, two lamentos and a very exciting, extravagant and loose garland-like set of Capriccio stravagante were performed, the latter being the opening piece of the concert. This work by Carlo Farina (born in Mantua around 1600, died in Vienna in 1639) very much resembles dances, amongst others the ungarescas favoured around Europe, but animal sounds and bagpipes can also be heard. The dances, musettes and the ornamentation of the violin are reminiscent of the medieval, or rather, secular Renaissance music, the accompaniment rarely moves from its subordinate position. The way the five members of the ensemble and Immerseel (who directed the orchestra sitting beside the harpsichord) played was beautiful; however, the changes of tempo were not always followed simultaneously, and the sound of the violin playing the melody often faltered.
Lamento sopra la morte di Ferdinando III, a work by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (born in Scheibbs around 1620, died in Prague in 1680), can also be divided into several (five) sections, the first one is a painful melody, the third is a faster imitation. The piece was interpreted in a very beautiful and sensitive way, but also contained some discordant sounds.
The other lamento, a beautiful work in da capo form prevalent in the Baroque era, was written by Johann Christoph Bach for an alto solo, and the lyrics (Ach, Dass ich Wassers gnug hätte) are based on the Book of Jeremiah and the Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet. The solo was sung by Norwegian Marianne Beate Kielland, revealing her real self, perhaps accentuating the word “Ach” beyond measure.
The Battle by Biber is a real masterpiece in diverse tones, the most exciting section is perhaps the second movement with a lot of cacophonous music, which is humorous yet surprising at the same time; I wonder what audiences thought of the movement entitled The dissolute company of all types of humour at the time (the last chord could well be one from the 20th century).
After the interval Monteverdi’s excellent Combattimento was performed, the composition based on one of Tasso’s works was accompanied by acting on the stage. The testo of the dramatic madrigal was Markus Schäfer, who relived, explained and sang the tragedy of the lovers in a highly dramatic way (the partiture contained a tremolo for the first time in music history, which was used by both instrumentalists and vocalists). The role of Clorinda was again sung by the Norwegian artist, who delivered an outstanding performance and let death be seen. Vincent Lesage in the role of Tancredi also deserves recognition.
The driving force behind the evening was Jos van Immerseel, it would be good to see him performing more often in Hungary.