Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Prom 44: Budapest Festival Orchestra – Ivan Fischer @ Royal Albert Hall, London

16 August 2006

With Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring now accepted as an annual Promsfixture there comes the danger of an overfamiliarity with the excesses thatcaused such an uproar at its infamous Parisian premiere of 1913.

IvanFischer made sure these ructions were not forgotten with a performancethat went right to the heart of Stravinsky’s vision of pagan Russia.

Take the Dance of the Earth, a furious surge of orchestral power,as exciting visually as it was aurally.

The music fair leapt from the pagein the dance sequences, with Fischer himself almost leaving the podium attimes. Contrast this with a relatively broad opening tempo and an expansiveDances of Spring, helped by the superlative playing of the Hungarianwind section.

The final, thrilling sacrificial dance capped an earthy performance,stripped to the roots, and not the orchestral display piece the ballet hasstarted to become in the wrong hands.

From the overfamiliar to the barely heard. Dohnányi’s symphonicminiatures opened the program as a past favourite of Sir Henry Wood, herereceiving their first Prom performance for sixty-five years. Fischer tookthe fast movements at quite a lick, still taking time to broaden theimprovisatory solos for clarinet and cor anglais in the Rapsodia andbringing a pleasingly urbane quality to the folksy subject of the Theme andVariations. The final scurrying Rondo flew by under the skilful fingers ofthe Budapest violinists.

The orchestra was joined by pianist Garrick Ohlsson for Bartók’sthird concerto, a work whose serenity is an obvious contrast to his twomore percussive outings in the form. Ohlsson’s delicacy in thequasi-religious verse and response of the central Adagio was a highlight,as was his dialogue with the winds in a sublime close to the firstmovement. A slight parting of the ways between piano and orchestra wasnoticeable at times early on but may well have been due to the venue ratherthan the ensemble, which was spot on in the bright and zestful finale.

The relative paucity of the programme was generously filled out byFischer, who having conducted the Rite from memory with great vigourstrode out again to offer an encore for request. His forces took on Brahms’sixth Hungarian Dance with an infectious swagger, before a string trio oforchestral members got the carnival into full swing with some traditionalTransylvanian music, one of the horn players showing unsuspected prowess onthe viola!

It was all played with obvious enjoyment, and obvious though it seems tosay it, that’s something we could do with seeing more often at theProms.

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