Two Hungarian orchestras delight İstanbul audiences
In a happy coincidence over three consecutive days, the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra (Magyar Nemzeti Filarmonikusok Zenekar, or MNF) and the Budapest Festival Orchestra (Budapesti Fesztiválzenekar, or BFZ) performed back-to-back: MNF at İş Sanat on April 1 and 2, and BFZ at Cemal Reşit Rey (CRR) concert hall on April 3.
These concerts gave İstanbul listeners a blitz of mighty fine orchestral brilliance, fresh from Hungary.
Budapest Festival Orchestra’s classical-era program
After their debut concert in January with a super-charged all-Russian program, the BFZ returned to CRR for their second concert on April 3 as the venue’s first foreign orchestra-in-residence. Their principal guest conductor, Gábor Takács-Nagy, led Haydn’s Symphony No. 1, Beethoven’s “German Dances,” and Mozart’s Symphony No. 33 and Piano Concerto No. 24 with soloist Dezsö Ránki.
Though I sorely missed the possibility of hearing Hungarian composers or even something outside the 18th century, this stylistically limited program was nevertheless enlivened by Takács-Nagy’s musical vivacity. We were also treated to a brass section of two horns and two trumpets who took up the period authenticity cause by using “natural” (valveless) instruments. This is often a risky practice because those older instruments can be less technically reliable, but these players provided wonderful expertise in repertoire that frequently offered them the spotlight.
Ránki’s intensity at the keyboard brought considerable wattage to the Mozart concerto, and a Chopin-esque first movement cadenza seemed a bit overwrought, but he did add spark to a repertoire that needed it. That movement’s fateful opening theme and eventual sublime ending were the high points of the piece, which otherwise lacked similar inspiration. And at a time when Beethoven’s string quartets, symphonies and piano sonatas are, frankly, played to death, it was a pleasure to hear his lesser-known “German Dances,” 12 short festive pieces for orchestra, one of which incorporated Turkish Janissary band percussion.