Proms 63 && 64: Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer, Royal Albert Hall

The surprises came thick and fast – but variants on a theme of Lady Gaga in the style of Bach was not one we might have anticipated. It came courtesy of the young Croatian pianist Dejan Lazic and given his limpid and robust devilry in Liszt’s outrageous Totentanz its capriciousness was entirely in keeping. You would, of course, expect Liszt from the Budapest Festival Orchestra but this was Liszt giving the Dies irae a good seeing to and if you can’t raise a chuckle dancing with death on the “day of wrath” when can you?

Liszt sandwiched a morsel of Mahler in the first half of the main concert: his floral tribute (how fitting) Blumine, once the second movement of his fledgling First Symphony, blossomed exquisitely around the quaint trumpet tune, a gentle portent of the symphony to come. Ivan Fischer began that with an ear-stretching pianopianissimo – a haze of string harmonics, nothing more, teasing every dewy drop of atmosphere from it. There was a gorgeous fragrance about the playing but bags of character, too, with the lumbering landler of the second movement nudged by a bellowing first horn and the café music of the third just the wrong side of cheesy.

The brassy triumph, when it came, was properly raucous with Fischer not only acknowledging Mahler’s request that the eight horns stand for their big moment (bells swivelled towards us) but having the rest of the brass and then the entire woodwind choir leap to their feet, too, for the final sprint. I honestly can’t remember a time when Mahler’s coda sounded so recklessly euphoric.

And then came the “Audience Choice” Prom – a whole concert of encores selected from a repertoire sheet of 285 pieces. The orchestra had changed into their casual gear and while a trio of their number improvised Transylvanian folk music we collected our raffle tickets and perused the list. Lucky numbers were fished out of the principle tuba’s instrument and we all voted as to which of three choices would be played.

No preparation, no rehearsal, just a rather nervous librarian rushing backstage to dig out the parts. I reckon we gave them an easy ride with Kodaly and Bartok proudly keeping things in the family. And actually it wasn’t the accomplishment of the play-throughs that impressed the most but rather the “group” turns they fielded while we waited for the music to arrive – not least four percussionists making something literal of body rhythm. My number didn’t come up. I’d have had this great orchestra playing Elgar.

Edward Seckerson, The Independent
9 March 2011


Fischer combines a probing intellect with an acute awareness of every emotional shift in any given score. This creates performances with transcendental energy, in which feeling and formal logic are held in perfect balance... The playing throughout was beyond criticism. The Budapest Festival Orchestra, which Fischer founded in 1983, ranks among the most formidable ensembles in the world.
London, The Guardian, 2001 February 20th, Tim Ashley

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