Budapest Festival Orchestra, conducted by Iván Fischer with Dejan Lazic, piano. Konzerthaus, September 28, 2010. Brahms, Piano Concerto No. 1 in d minor (op. 15); Bartók, Romanian Dance Sz47a (orchestral version), Concerto for Orchestra Sz 116.I confess to never having heard the Budapest Festival Orchestra before, as far as I know. And now I know I should be ashamed of this. Here they were conducted by their founder and music director, Iván Fischer. I was immediately struck by their distinctive sound: it has a kind of sheen or graininess, almost a HIP orchestra sound (which I think is part of their concept?) with a lighter touch and less vibrato than you hear from most modern groups. The brass is sharp-edged and buzzy, the woodwinds are focused and perfectly blended. All together they sound like a giant pipe organ stuck on the flute stop, only way better.
Fischer started Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 at a daringly slow tempo--daring because this is a long early Brahms piece that tips into ponderous in a hurry. But that never happened, this was an elegiac, tranquil interpretation with simple expressionism and none of the bluster that can invade Brahms’s more self-serious works. Pianist Dejan Lazic is a formidable technician with a forceful, steely kind of sound and the score held no apparent terrors for him, every note in the rapid runs of the last movement sounded clearly. But he also separated the lines of the second movement with beautiful fluency and matching the orchestra’s poetic phrasing line for line. (He explained before playing a bubbly Haydn encore that the concert’s late start was due to technical piano troubles. I assume that solving those problems left smears all over the shiny black Steinway, hence the Windex dude.)
Bartok’s Romanian Dance Sz47a served as a virtuosic, colorful palate-cleanser after intermission, though I was alarmed to hear the orchestra launch into the Concerto for Orchestra with little preamble after it. While both are orchestral display pieces highlighting each section of the orchestra in turn,they didn’t seem to be making any argument for the folky side of the Concerto. For the first three movements this was a clean, modernist reading, with a darker sound than the Brahms, and an excellent display for the wind sections of the orchestra, particularly the super brass section. The fourth movement was more colorful and playful, with virtuosic switches between delicacy and roughness from the strings, the last movement loud and exciting, as it should be. There was an encore, the Banditen-Galopp from J. Strauss the younger's operetta Prinz Methusalem, proving the real way to get Viennese audiences to cheer is to play something by a Strauss.
Through the whole evening I was particularly struck by the principal flute player’s solos, which were wonderful. I didn’t buy a program and the orchestra’s website doesn’t identify which players are principals, but, anyways, brava! Also, I would like to note that this orchestra is around a third women, including the concertmaster--you show Vienna, Budapest. (Really, the Philharmoniker is the only local offender in that regard, the other Viennese orchestras are thoroughly gender-integrated.)
Finally, I want y’all to see the first comment on this post. Listen to the Opera Cake, he knows what he’s talking about.