Conductor Iván Fischer took on the additional roles of lecturer and narrator in this fine evening of work by Bartók, with Duke Bluebeard’s Castle as centrepiece - a critical review by Erica Jeal, The Guardian.
Concerts with Iván Fischer at the helm of the Budapest Festival Orchestra often feel quirky, but they shouldn’t: what’s so eccentric about persuading us to think about what we’re hearing?
This one was all about Bartók. Part lecturer, part Jackanory storyteller, Fischer began by outlining the composer’s fascination with recording folk songs in rural Hungary, and played us some of those recordings, filling the hall with the lone voices of farm labourers and schoolgirls heard through century-old phonograph hiss. Then there was live folk song, delivered in Márta Sebestyén’s throaty purr, accompanied in traditional style by a trio from the orchestra. Then, and only then, came Bartók’s orchestral take on these same melodies: his two 1933 Hungarian Peasant Songs. And if the initial impression was of how veneered the orchestral version seems, that was swept away by the momentum of the playing and by Bartók’s powers of invention.
The main event was Bartók’s one-act opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Fischer spoke the Prologue, conducting the first, creeping orchestral entries behind his back. Then he handed over the storytelling to Ildikó Komlósi, ripe-toned and impassioned as Judith, and to Krisztián Cser, whose deep, velvety bass oozed sinister tenderness and Freudian confusion in the title role. The orchestra eschewed stark coloration in favour of a blended glow that caught fire at the opening of the Fifth Door, generating a forceful climax to an evening that was not at all eccentric, but thought-provoking and exhilaratingly enjoyable.