More Proms Reviews and Rants

Fischer and Budapest: The achievement of Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra is singular in our time. In an era when all the great new ensembles are chamber orchestras, early music, contemporary music, chamber music, anything except full symphony orchestras, Ivan Fischer created what most would never even dare - a truly great orchestra from nothing that can stand with the greatest and oldest in the world.

Was it their finest night in the concert hall? Certainly not, but the achievement was there for all to hear. Fischer and the BFO did two concerts over the course of a single night. The first concert was not quite the revelation for which Iíd hoped, the second one was. Fischer began with an orchestral arrangement of Lisztís Mephisto Waltz. I am not a Liszt fan on my most charitable days, but there is something about an orchestral arrangement of the Mephisto Waltz that feels too lumbering by half. Even in these nimble hands, itís just clumsy. Then came a far better treat: Lisztís Totentanz - a superbly crafted 20-minute piece of virtuoso fluff for piano and orchestra. The Croatian pianist, Dejan Lazic, is an ideal Lisztian: fearlessly ascending to flights of bravura vulgarity that would terrify a more timid pianist. Totentanz is neither deep nor particularly great, but it is a very well constructed piece of music thatís entertaining as hell. Bravo to all involved. But the piece everybody really cared about was the Mahler, a composer for whom Fischer is compiling a reputation second to none in his generation. Unfortunately, this was not the revelation for which Iíd hoped. Fischer has conducted perhaps the greatest Mahler 2 on record, so I had enormous hopes for this Mahler 1. Alas, for all his fire, Ivan Fischer is not a died-in-the-wool Romantic at heart. Mahler 2 is a piece based on effects, and it requires iron control to bring them off. Mahler 1 is a more natural (and to my ears, greater) piece of music, and requires the ebb and flow which only spontaneous musicianship can bring. There was freedom and rubato aplenty in this performance, but it felt imposed from without.Fischer was unable to do bring that off, that is, until the finale. Iím not sure I have ever heard the 20-minute finale done better. Suddenly, the musicianship felt spontaneous and right.

The revelations didnít end there. Next came a Ďby-requestí concert in which audience members were given a catalogue of 285 pieces and three numbers for were drawn out of a lottery from a tuba. After the three lucky audience members chose their favorites, the audience got to vote as a whole. And so we were then treated to a battle between the Prommers and the Classic FM audience, with the sweet sounds of the Prommers winning out every time. So rather than the usual Classical Top 40, we got Kodalyís Dances of Galanta, Bartokís Romanian Folk Dances, Berliozís Rakoczy March, Straussís Music of the Spheres Waltz and the fastest ever performance of Glinkaís Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture we shall ever hear. What amazes is that though none of these works were rehearsed (indeed, itís probable some were not played in years), Fischer took absolutely enormous interpretive risks in each of them. The results were not always note perfect, they didnít need to be. The raw nature of this concert seemed to spur the players to intensity that much greater. In its own way, this was a revelatory concert.

Evan Tucker, Epileptic Fits of Blogging
9 August 2011


One senses {in Bartůk`s Concerto for Orchestra} that the players are being driven to the very limits of their abilities, which only serves to intensify the excitement. While not meaning to sound like an IvŠn Fischer `groupie`, I am delighted to welcome yet another winner from this wonderfully responsive orchestra.
Gramophone, January 1999, R(ob) C(owan)

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