Editor: Marc Bridle


Webmaster: Len Mullenger





WWW MusicWeb

Search Music Web with FreeFind

Any Review or Article



Seen and Heard Concert Review


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 Hungarian Dance.

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 orchestration.

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 rapturous applause.

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.

Alex Russell

Further listening:

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); DGG: 447747.

Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez (conductor); DGG: 437826.

Back to the Top     Back to the Index Page





Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)