Budapest Festival Orchestra
Press reviews May 08, 2016

Best of '91

Clapping between movements of the Clarinet Concerto in A major!? Well, excuse me… But, that’s the only negative thing I can say about the Budapest Festival Orchestra’s Mozart concert that I had the pleasure of hearing on 8 May. (Dániel Mona, Playliszt)

Just as it is exciting to browse the BFO programme notes and marvel at what happened in related arts and history in the year the performed composition was conceived, it is even more interesting to compare how far along their career path a composer had gone at a given point in time. And the mysteries of a certain year or composer can be deepened still by the kind of conceptual intersection Iván Fischer came up with for the BFO’s latest concert. He chose three Mozart compositions, all from the year of his death, 1791. It would be curious enough simply to hear three faces of a composer, in this case an amorous aria, a concerto and a requiem mass, but even more so if the works are from the same year.

The other feature of the concert were the two instrumental soloists, who had been selected from the members of the orchestra. It was a nice touch; it helps the players keep their skills sharp when an orchestra selects soloists from its own ranks every so often. Alongside a bass singer, the opening aria Per questa bella mano also featured the double-bass player as a soloist. It wasn’t easy for Zsolt Fejérvári, since his instrument is rarely in the limelight. And even more so on this occasion as Mozart did not restrain himself to typical double-bass ranges, but exploited the full audio spectrum of the instrument. The shared bass-solo often melded into the orchestral sound, but in reality its sound was emphasised precisely as much as required. Ákos Ács played the solo part of the Clarinet Concerto in A major, just as he had done with the same concerto and orchestra more than ten years ago. He played as if he was converting his thoughts directly and fully into the clarinet’s sound. His performance was marked by chilling, ethereal pianos; all-encompassing notes in the lower registers, each with a clear beginning, content and end; perfect intonation; and a developed, creative virtuosity.

The second part of the concert featured the Requiem, with a full cast of guest singers. Hanno Müller-Brachmann had already sung in the opening aria, as well as having performed earlier that day as Sarastro at Saturday’s musical demonstration. He has the kind of bass voice which fills the available space perfectly, while keeping his tone friendly, soft and unobtrusive. And the same can be said of the other three vocal soloists; Norma Nahoun (soprano), Barbara Kozelj (alto) and Bernard Richter (tenor) all managed to strike a tone suitable for a requiem, which differs from opera singing in the extent of vibratos, the tone of voice and also in articulation. The singers were placed in a semicircle on four podiums within the orchestra, that is, further away from each other than usual. This provided a real Dolby surround sound, especially as they sang in perfect unison despite the musician-filled distance between them. Their singing was not layered, but formed an amalgamation. At times, their sound was even proportionate to the orchestra’s, and not to each others’. And that, even though it’s usually considered to be a mistake, had its advantages. While the singers being insufficiently apart from the orchestra led inevitably to a certain loss of intelligibility of the text, the singing and instrumental music formed an inseparable unity, due to “the singers being insufficiently apart from the orchestra.” When I closed my eyes, I could hear singing from everywhere, and the orchestra’s sound also came from all directions.

The Collegium Vocale Gent choir similarly blended into the unified sound. A chamber choir like this seemed inadequate at first for the performance of such a grand work; but on the one hand, the piece would have originally been performed with a similarly small vocal unit, and on the other, the BFO found the right proportions between the numbers of players on stage and the choir. Mozart was very conscious of giving the choir its roles, and Iván Fischer reproduced his intentions exceptionally. The choir could be heard clearly when they had an important part of the canon to sing, and at other times they remained blended with the Festival Orchestra like a vocal instrument. Because on stage there are no nations, instruments or individual interests. There is only a common goal, for which everyone strives with the same force and discipline. Well, this is approximately how Iván Fischer unifies an orchestra, a choir and four soloists, and creates music…