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PROM 44 – Prokofiev, Bartók and Dvořák: Leonidas Kavakos (violin), Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer (conductor), Royal Albert Hall, London. 18.8.2009 (RC)

Prokofiev: Overture on Hebrew Themes (1934)
Bartók: Violin Concerto No. 2 (1937-8)
Dvořák: Symphony No. 7 in D minor (1884-5)

Recently voted in Gramophone as one of the 10 best symphony orchestras in the world, the BFO has built up an enviable reputation since it was formed over a quarter of a century ago. The list of players shows that the vast majority are still Hungarians, and tonight’s fine concert showed off their skills to the full in repertoire close to their hearts.

In Bartók’s epic Second Violin Concerto Kovakos displayed fearless virtuosity in his traversal of the solo part. His sinewy tone seemed suited to projecting the Hungarian gypsy character and its dance origins. The orchestra also impressed with many solo spots and I particularly relished the metallic horn sounds. A few of the gear changes appeared almost too calculated, though the cumulative impact of the performance was never in doubt. Fischer directed with great authority, achieving excellent balance between the soloist and orchestra.

The Dvořák was a lean and athletic performance, fully alive to its folk roots. Fischer’s compelling interpretation allowed for moments of repose whilst never losing the symphonic momentum. Particularly memorable was the vibrant Scherzo, with some particularly vivid colours from the woodwind. The drama was fully maintained into the last movement, with Fischer sustaining the tension right up until the glorious final chords.

The Prokofiev at the start of the concert featured some idiomatic central European clarinet playing. The contrast between the jaunty first theme and the second slower melody was expertly judged, as were the changes in tempo.

Robert Costin

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