Figaro/József Kling The Budapest Festival Orchestra toured Europe and performed Symphony No. 3 and 4 by Brahms at the most exciting end-of-summer festivals, enjoying enormous success everywhere, from London to Milan. There were several full-house concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and the Scala before we could finally hear them play at the Palace of Arts.
Iván Fischer makes the right move every time. Most recently, he decided to transform the orchestra into a choir right after the instruments are put down at the end of the two Brahms symphonies.
This weekend Budapest audiences could enjoy the same experience on three consecutive evenings at the Palace of Arts. Just because musicians have proper control over their instruments, it does not necessarily follow that they can sing well. But apparently, Festival Orchestra members are also capable of treating their bodies as instruments. And pretty skilfully actually.
Brahms’s Evening Serenade (Abendständchen) is based on a poem by Clemens Brentano. His music is the sensitive reading of the verse. Lines like Golden weh’n die Töne nieder (golden, the sounds waft down) or Durch die Nacht, die mich umfangen / Blickt zu mir der Töne Licht (Through the night that enfolds me / shines the light of the music) turned into genuine notes.
Sounds fell on us as if they were warm snowflakes. The performance incorporated the duality typical of Brahms, i.e. the tension caused by striving for harmony, and the irrational fear of being unable to achieve harmony.
Symphony Nos. 3 and 4 were dominated by the same duality. Iván Fischer managed to capture the third in its complexity. Especially during the first movement when the generally heroic mood created by the violins was constantly undermined by the dark minor-formuli played by the bass, as written in the concert brochure. In the second and third movement the orchestra elaborated on the pastel colours of melancholy. During the fourth, heroism choked on its own burst of energy.
The climax was eventually reached in Symphony No. 4 (in E minor). I have heard Fischer’s orchestra play my favourite Brahms symphony before. Every time I hear the first nine notes, I feel almost at home in the heart-rending feeling. The recurring motif that portrays the existential distress of humans becomes lighter and lighter in each movement until it is completely destroyed in the fourth one. That’s what it always comes to. Iván Fischer made us heroes once again.