Budapest Festival Orchestra
Press reviews September 03, 2018

Charm and charisma

It is always a joy to welcome the Budapest Festival Orchestra to London, an ensemble which retains its top-notch status. The orchestra was founded by Fischer in 1983 and he has remained at the helm ever since. Hewn from old-world standards, their music making exuded charm and charisma. Critical review by Colin Clarke, Seen and Heard International.

The programming, too, was stimulating, with an Enescu rarity up first: the first movement of the First Suite. It lives up it its title (Prélude à l’unison) with only a timpani roll, placed at the Golden Section point, to enhance the string line. The performance was beautifully disciplined, the decorations of melody incredibly together. Arpeggiations implied harmonies, and there were a couple of spread chords. There was no missing that stability-enhancing, grounding timpani entrance, either. One only missed the rest of the Suite.

We were back on far more familiar turf for the Bartók. It was the perfect follow-on, with the first movement boasting real pianissimi and beautifully uniform dynamics. The movement was superbly shaped, the tension beautifully maintained, and clarity was everywhere, even from the back of the hall. Contrast came with the violins ripping into the second movement Allegro; a great sense of play ensued. Fischer was clearly out to highlight the contrasts between the movements, with the Adagio frankly disturbing in demeanour (superb percussion). Washes of sound and a perfectly graded diminuendo led to a markedly brisk finale – those contrasts again – and its markedly folksy gait. With lush lower strings and absolute equivalence between first and second violins, this was a memorable account. Fischer and his players’ assurance in Bartók is legendary (see his Royal Festival Hall concert in May 2017 of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle with the Sz 100 Peasant Songs and traditional Hungarian performance, for example: review); this was a joy to experience.

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