source: www.telegraph.co.uk; John Allison The Budapest Festival Orchestra's first of two Proms showed exactly what sets them apart
In the first of their two “Habsburg” Proms, the Budapest Festival Orchestra and its founding conductor Iván Fischer showed all the enterprising musicianship for which they’re celebrated. In part a cheery antidote to the Vienna Philharmonic’s famous New Year’s Day concerts - which few care to remember were founded in 1939 as an act of musical ethnic cleansing - the Budapesters’ dance-inspired programme was designed to showcase music drawn from right across the former Austro-Hungarian lands.
Only one Hungarian composer was featured, but the account of Kodály’s Dances of Galánta will surely remain a highlight of the 2014 Proms. This is music close to Fischer’s heart, and drew a performance that was by turns rapt and rasping in its intensity, the work summoning up memories of gypsy tunes in the town where the composer spent part of this childhood.
Fischer built things up unerringly from the melting clarinet solo of the opening dance towards the work’s climax, where the whole orchestra played with wild abandon.
There was also plenty of Magyar lilt in Fischer’s own orchestrations of three of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances - though, by starting the concert quietly with No. 14 in D minor, he deliberately set a sober tone. The last of Dvořák’s Legends, No. 10 in B flat minor, further reflected a wistful undercurrent in the programme.
The Viennese waltz king got his due, too, and his most famous work helped to reclaim the Blue Danube for Budapest: a suave and smooth BFO showed that it is completely at home with the idiom. Two of Strauss’s fast polkas were brilliantly done under Fischer’s mercurial baton, and a waltz by his younger brother Josef Strauss sounded sweet and languid, with no hint of routine.
Stretching as far west as Salzburg, the programme embraced Mozart with his little March in D major, K335 No. 1. But more serious matters were addressed by placing Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony at the heart of the concert: an unusually measured and introverted performance showcased the orchestra’s glowingly warm strings and cultivated winds.
If confirmation were still needed of what sets the BFO apart, the encore provided it. In one of Dvořák’s Moravian duets, Možnost, the women of the orchestra stood up to sing its haunting lines while the male string players accompanied.
Not only was the orchestra doing something the male-dominated Vienna Philharmonic would find impossible, it was demonstrating the centrality of singing in Hungarian musical culture.
Photo: Chris Christodoulou