Switch to mobile view

The Budapest Festival Orchestra has built a strong reputation with New York audiences. Last spring, Iván Fischer's band roared through The Rite of Spring. Last summer, they offered a compelling, fully-staged Don Giovanni at Mostly Mozart. Saturday night's concert at Carnegie Hall, featuring the music of Bartók and Schubert only added to that legacy.

Mr. Fischer chose an unusual seating arrangement for his players.
Woodwinds were placed at the front, with the principal oboe in front of the
concertmaster. All the bassists used five-string instruments. They were dead
center, behind the brass. Other players moved around depending on which piece
was being played.
The program opened with a Bartók rarity: settings of Hungarian
Peasant Songs. These works were played with firm brass tones (especially from
the trombones) and delicate, playful work from the oboe and clarinet. The tuba,
moved to the front for these pieces enjoyed great prominence. Following what
seems to be a trend among orchestras this year, Mr. Fischer had his violins and
violas play these songs standing up.
The orchestra was joined by soloist András Schiff for Bartók’s
Second Piano Concerto. Mr. Schiff remains a sublime pianist, bringing out the
lyric beauty in Bartok’s high-speed, staccato keyboard figures and displaying a
smooth legato. The solo part seemed to spill from his fingers in the slow
second movement, accompanied by Mr. Fischer with a delicate, pointillist
beauty.
Mr. Schiff held the Hall rapt in the last movement. His hands
fluttered and dove over the keyboard, at one point bouncing out the melody in
the high register with his right as his left raced up the lower regions. It was
stunning playing, met with an enthusiastic reception. The soloist obliged the
adulation with a pair of encores: a Schubert Impromptu and Liszt’s
lyrical Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5.
Schubert’s Ninth Symphony sat in a drawer at the Gesellschaft der
Musikfreunde in Vienna for a decade. In 1838, ten years after Schubert’s death,
it was shown to composer/critic Robert Schumann. Dubbed the “Great” Symphony,
the Ninth has since become an orchestra standard, the most popular Schubert
symphony besides the “Unfinished.”
Mr. Fischer’s interpretation did much to blow the dust from this
well-traveled score. Schubert’s innovative combination of wind, horns and
trombone stands at the core of this work, and Mr. Fischer’s choice to move the
winds forward led to a superbly balanced sound.
A noble, searching horn theme started the first movement, taken
here at a slightly fast pace. Mr. Fischer maintained this momentum through the
work, letting the eloquence of Schubert’s echoing conversation between winds and
strings speak for itself. The climax of the opening movement surged with joy and
power that belied the composer’s dire last years.
The two dance movements, a fleet-footed Andante and joyful
Scherzo also featured expert playing from the Budapest winds. Mr. Fischer drew
extra reserves of power for the final Allegro, bringing the argument of
this long symphony to a giddy climax. The last phrases, with staccato trumpets
and stomping tuba sounded like a happy round dance, a rustic celebration in the
tradition of Beethoven’s Sixth.
The orchestra ended with what Mr. Fischer announced as their
traditional encore: a cheerful and very Hungarian dance. It was a strong end to
a solid program, another feather in the cap for this excellent, innovative and
rapidly rising European orchestra.