Seen and Heard Concert
Bartók and Beethoven:
Richard Goode (piano), Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván
Fischer (conductor), Barbican Centre, 3 & 4 June, 2005 (AR)
Concert 1 - Bartók Dance Suite, Miraculous
Mandarin Suite; Beethoven Piano Concerts 3 & 4.
This Barbican Hall 'Great Performers' concert was the first of
Richard Goode's four-concert Beethoven Piano Concerto Cycle with
the Budapest Festival Orchestra under its founder-conductor Iván
Fischer (the concluding concerts are in November).
Opening with an appropriately rugged performance of Bartók's
Dance Suite, Fischer conducted with great swagger and bucolic
bounce, seamlessly integrating the five sections, each featuring
a different dance-rhythm. The forwardly projected spiky woodwind
emphasised the raucous folk-like style of the dances. The woodwind,
brass, and percussion were suitably coarse-grained, producing
brittle and strident sounds. Fischer used antiphonal violins and
placed the cellos centre-left with the double bases strewn along
the back stage. This arrangement worked wonders at the Barbican,
with the double-basses having greater weight and presence.
Richard Goode is internationally recognised as a leading interpreter
of the music of Beethoven and in 1993 he released a Grammy-nominated
set of the complete Beethoven sonatas. His perfectly pitched performance
of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 2 in B flat, Op. 19 confirmed
his reputation. Goode rightly articulated the eloquent Mozartian
mood of the music, playing with agility, wit and lightness throughout.
Goode often played with the impression of spontaneous improvisation
as if he were himself Beethoven, playing extempore. He played
the Adagio with a sparse economy and direct simplicity, producing
a multiplicity of melting moods whilst the concluding Rondo was
fluent, sprightly and sparkling. Fischer and his forces gave Goode
sensitive support, producing an authentic Beethoven sound.
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3 in C minor, Op. 37 was given
in a sterner and starker manner, stripped of Mozart's influence
altogether: this was Beethoven's voice - dark, brooding, volatile.
Goode brought out the darker moods of the music giving an extra
poignancy to the Largo, never dragged or sentimental, the woodwinds
being appropriately sombre. In the closing Rondo: Allegro the
trumpets and the use of hard sticks with small kettledrums gave
the music its militaristic inflections and matched Goode's direct
and dramatic playing. Again Fischer showed himself to be an incisive
and instinctive Beethoven conductor.
The highlight of the evening was an electrifying account of Bartók's
The Miraculous Mandarin Suite, Op.19. Again the BFO played
this chilling, thrilling score as it should be played - in an
acidic, metallic, brittle and rugged manner - not as an emulsified
homogenisation of smoothed out orchestral textures. Today, many
performances of Bartok's violent score are too streamlined, whilst
Fischer's acrid, astringent interpretation had a refreshingly
direct, manic and rugged rawness to it. The opening street scene
was perfectly measured, establishing an underlying nervous tension,
pre-empting the horrors to come. The prostitute's enticing dance
was erotically captured in the seductively played clarinet cadenza.
The closing passages were a wild frenzy of whirling sounds: this
was the most violently savage music making I have heard since
hearing Erich Leinsdorf conducting Strauss's Elektra
with the Vienna State Opera in 1983. This fiery Miraculous Mandarin
was truly shot through with Hungarian paprika and the encore was
a further delicious helping of goulash in the form of a Brahms
Concert - 2 Bartók 15 Hungarian Peasant
Songs, Concerto for Orchestra; Beethoven Piano Concerto No
1, Coriolan Overture.
Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra's second concert
lived up to the first in its highly distinguished music making.
They opened with Bartók's rarely played 15 Hungarian
Peasant Songs (orch. 1933) played straight through without
a break. Again the BFO were in their element, playing with a viscerally
rustic gusto inspired by their passionate and extrovert conductor.
Their grainy, yet weighty, sound is utterly unique with its distinct
dark and earthy timbre, and so suited to Bartók's folk-type
Richard Goode then continued his Beethoven cycle with the composer's
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C, Op. 15. Again, Goode adopted for a
no-nonsense practical approach, stripping Beethoven down to the
bones, devoid of flowery excess or mannerisms. In the Allegro
con brio he played with a fleet, urgent directness, matching the
aggressive military mood of the movement - accompanied by hard
stick punctuations from the kettledrums. Goode's playing of the
Largo had a tender lyrical eloquence and noble simplicity about
it, beautifully accompanied by the serene colourings of the clarinets.
With the concluding Rondo Allegro Goode shifted mood and metre
and played with a brisk and playful urgency, without ever sounding
heavy or ponderous, as is often the case here. Throughout Fischer
and the BFO gave impassioned and stylish support and they and
the soloist won warm, heartfelt applause.
The second half of the concert opened with a powerfully direct
account of Beethoven's Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 - arguably
his most difficult overture to conduct. By taking the work slightly
quicker than we are accustomed to, Fischer was able to make the
music flow yet still give it a measured weight and tragic grandeur.
From the opening stabbing chords to the tranquil resignation of
the closing passages the BFO played with an appropriate starkness.
The concert concluded with a paradigm performance of Bartók's
Concerto for Orchestra which was conducted without a
break, with Fischer treating the five sections as one on-going
movement. In the “Introduzione andante non troppo”
Fischer brought out incredible orchestral details, the BFO producing
dark orchestral textures with the strings having a weighty toughness,
whilst in the “Giuoco delle coppie” the flutes and
muted trumpets added a refulgent glow.
The eerie “Elegi” had something of the night about
it, with the BFO producing demonic, sinister sounds so characteristic
of Bartók's 'night music', similar in mood to his Music
for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta. In the “Intermezzo”
Fischer brought out the grotesque parody of the march-tune from
Shostakovich's 'Leningrad' Symphony with great aplomb, with clarinet
and brass playing with maximal élan. The “Finale
peasante – presto” was a white-knuckle, roller-coaster
ride of thrilling, spiralling sounds. The most shuddering and
subterranean moments were in the tranquillo passages where the
BFO played with ghostly, haunting murmurings: I simply have never
heard these weird, sinister sound effects in any other performance
- it was quite a disturbing experience. As these spooky moods
melted away the brass and percussion took to the fore and the
work ended in a cascade of sound from the full orchestra.
An exhilarating experience with the audience demanding more...and
they got it. Fischer announced that they would play Rachmaninov's
Vocalise as an encore and rounded up some of the backbench strings
to play standing around him to create a sense of intimacy. Needless
to say the performance was wonderfully played and rewarded with
The Budapest Festival Orchestra produces the authentic, astringent
Bartók sound and really know how to let themselves go in
concert, reminding us that Hungary is, after all, the birthplace
of the czardas. Fischer, Goode and the orchestra will be back
at the Barbican Centre on November 11th and 12th to perform Beethoven's
Piano Concertos 4 & 5, as well as Bartók's Music
for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta and The Wooden Prince:
I wait with baited breath.
Bartók: Dance Suite, Divertimento; Hungarian Sketches,
Two Pictures; Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Pierre
Boulez (conductor); DGG: 445825.
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 & Sonata No. 22
Sviatoslav Richter (piano), Boston Symphony Orchestra,
Charles Munch (conductor); JVC: JM-XR24018.
Beethoven: Piano Concertos No. 2 & No. 3; Friedrich Gulda
(piano), Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Horst Stein (conductor);
Decca Eloquence: 467 424-2.
Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin, Music for Strings, Percussion
& Celesta; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez (conductor);
Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra,
Pierre Boulez (conductor); DGG: 437826.