TWO CONDUCTING BARTÓK
Though I have been to two concerts since, I am still under the spell of the concert of the BFO on Sunday. The orchestra played Minea by Kalevi Aho, Piano Concerto No. 1 by Bartók and a cross-section of Romeo and Juliet, the ballet by Prokofiev conducted by Osmo Vänskä, guest conductor from Finland. (figaro.postr.hu)
The evening in a certain sense can be interpreted as the continuation of the lasting experience caused by Concerto Budapest. Percussions were in the limelight at both events. The composition of contemporary Finnish composer Kalevi Aho, composed for a grand symphony orchestra, started out as a snow ball rolling down the hillside, but by the end had grown into a gigantic avalanche which swept away the audience. Of course, the comparison is not perfect, as the oriental runs of the main subject were reminiscent of the mirage of minarets and oases in the desert.
The light subject, sounding as if it was the soundtrack of a movie, was played by every section to arrive where it really belonged: in the universe of the percussion instruments. There it expanded, flourished and repeated itself so effectively that it would have been easy to fall into a trance listening to it. That Aho’s fantasy music did not become an autotelic stunt, a sensationalist piece straining for effect, was due to the disciplined, paternalistic manner of conducting by Osmo Vänskä, whom the members of the orchestra obviously took very seriously and whose gestures they followed obediently. I cannot have enough of the soft, warm and yet tight, bright sound that by now has become the trademark of the Festival Orchestra, should they play Mozart, Brahms or Bartók.
The plans were for Pierre-Laurent Aimard to play the piano, but he cancelled his appearance due to illness. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to listen to him playing Piano Concerto No. 1 by Bartók. I was satisfied by the performance of Dezső Ránki to such an extent that it made me completely uninterested in anybody else’s interpretation of the same piece. The drums moved down next to the piano, and even the podium was closely surrounded by instruments.
I read somewhere, maybe in the concert brochure, that in Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 1 the piano is one of many instruments and lost its classical role, concerting, entering into a dialogue with the others. Well, I definitely had the opposite experience. Far from melting into the orchestra, it became much more dominant, accentuated and its role extended. Under Ránki’s hands the keys of the piano were sometimes drumsticks, other times they were wings of a butterfly. I was amazed at the ease of Ránki playing such heavy music, creating the illusion of spontaneity. Ránki’s role was so decisive that Osmo Vänskä not only accepted him as a partner, he nearly let him lead the orchestra. This Bartók composition was conducted by two of them at the same time.
From Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, the ballet music, it was the conductor himself who selected twelve movements as a cross-section of the whole composition. After the Bartók opus, stirring up emotions, the music of Prokofiev was nearly too beautiful and theatrical in the good sense of the word, full of dance and fire, we veered back slightly into the realms of fantasy. Though nearly all the movements ended up in a spectacular orgy of sounds, even in the moment of Juliet’s death I couldn’t help hearing the echoes of Ránki’s heavy hammer strokes.