The Budapest Festival Orchestra and their music director Iván Fischer came to the Musikverein last night with an odd program of Bartók (Dance Suite for Orchestra Sz 77), Paganini (Violin Concerto No. 1), and Chaikovsky (Symphony No. 5). It’s not bad programming per se, but it seemed a little bit on the random side. I suppose the Bartók and Chaikovsky both have dance things going on? (Which is something you could say for a lot of music.)
I really like this orchestra, with their dry sound and vaguely Russian brass, but I wasn’t as blown away this time as I was by their Konzerthaus concert last September. But they are still a very good orchestra indeed. If only this program had come together a little better. The Bartók Dance Suite was new in title to me, though I’ve heard some parts of it before in other Bartók pieces. It was an unusual choice to open the program, because the orchestra is treated quite sectionally and it was hard to get a good sense of their general sound. However, the playing was very fine, with wonderful transparency between sections.
Judging by the hobbit hair and the PR accompanying his CD, violin soloist József Lendvay sees himself as the embodiment of the demonic Hungarian Gypsy fiddler. But while his first Paganini concerto would be suitable for a Heuriger somewhere, this astonishingly sloppy performance was not fit for the Musikverein. Granted, he has a rather good flying staccato and plays it all very quickly, but more notes were wrong than right, and most of them were not in the right places, either. The whole concerto was pervaded by rubato and twisted rhythms with no musical logic, and even simple passages showed little grace and wretched intonation (nearly every harmonic squeaked in the way they do when you don’t tune them quite right). Just awful. He got a large ovation, making me distrust the collective ears of the Viennese public (this was perhaps not the usual crowd; they applauded a lot after the first movement of a perfectly conventional concerto, I wanted to in the hope that he would stop). Paging Julia Fischer! Or Hilary Hahn! We need you!
(I prefer writing positive reviews, I really like liking things, but I understand why people bash performances so much. It is so much easier to write. I think it is richly deserved in this case.)
It could only get better after that. And it did. The Chaikovsky Symphony no. 5 was very good, a good completion for my Jansons No. 4 and Barenboim No. 6 earlier this season. Fischer had his eye on the trajectory of the entire piece, starting off restrained and somber in the first movement. The horn solo in the second movement was a bit disappointingly blank, but the movement built up to a very impressive and clearly planned climax, even though the movement itself feels like leftovers from the Symphony No. 4 (fate motive? check. pizzicati? check.) plus some of the better bits of the Swan Lake finale. The third movement was quiet, played as a soft interlude between the outpourings of the second and fourth, and the staccato passages in the strings could have used more lightness. The fourth movement turned very gaudy, with the bright brass pretty much blasting everyone else out of the water. The ending was taken at an impressive clip, perhaps to disguise that it is about 4 minutes of straight V — I alternations.
A mixed bag but mostly redeemed by the Chaik.
Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer, conductor. Musikverein, 5/11/2011. Program: Bartók, Dance Suite for Orchestra Sz 77; Pagaini, Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major; Chaikovsky/Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 5 in e minor.