Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra serve up rich, old-world Brahms at Kravis Center

By Lawrence Budmen

Ivan Fischer conducted the Budapest Festival Orchestra Monday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. Photo: Marco Borggreve

Ivan Fischer conducted the Budapest Festival Orchestra Monday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. Photo: Marco Borggreve

The music of Johannes Brahms was on display in the Central European tradition Monday afternoon when conductor Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra offered two Brahms symphonies at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. In this first of two concerts by the Hungarian orchestra, Fischer came across as a solid exponent of a middle-of-the-road school of Brahms performance, favoring relaxed tempos and mellow orchestral  timbres.  His ensemble, formed over three decades ago, is one of Europe’s best, winning plaudits for its many recordings (including symphonies of Brahms and Mahler).

Utilizing a seating plan with divided violins on each side of the conductor and cellos in back of the first violins on the left, violas behind second violins on the right and double basses spread across the back of the stage, Fischer drew a large and polished sonority from the strings, which dominate this ensemble’s corporate sound.

The Symphony No. 3 in F Major is a score that has confounded and defeated some great conductors. It is the most lyrical and introspective of the four symphonies and Fischer emphasized those qualities in a reading of the first movement that did not lack momentum. The blended winds and brass were never harsh or blatant and Fischer masterfully engineered the soft return of the opening theme at the movement’s close.

He brought a sense of forward thrust to the lyrical clarinet melody of the Andante, with the dark undertow of the lower strings always present. Under Fischer’s exceptional control, the melancholy Poco Allegretto never became mournful or plodding. This third movement finely showcased the lustrous strings and the winds’ sweet tonal blend. The solo horn was  particularly outstanding, combining precision with a rounded sonority. At a taut clip, Fischer phrased the opening subject of the finale in a more angular manner with the usually inaudible bass figures beneath the wind melody clear and incisive. The orchestra’s fortes resounded brilliantly and the final brass chorale sounded warm and beautifully balanced.

The performance of the Symphony No. 1 in C minor was considerably more bold, with Fischer making some striking interpretive choices. A slow, elongated and majestic introduction to the first movement  was in the Otto Klemperer mode. The rapid allegro engendered sharp, vigorous accents and a widely varied range of dynamics. Fischer took the coda at a very slow speed, as a return to the stately opening.

Fischer’s interpretation failed to convince only in the Andante, where he tended to linger over phrases and pull the musical line out of shape. Much of the playing was still undeniably beautiful, the blend of solo violin, horn and flute subtly illuminated. The winds glowed in the bucolic third movement and the famous horn theme in the introduction to the finale was broadly shaped. Fischer brought rhythmic thrust to the finale in an interpretation darker and more aggressive many performances. In the big climaxes, the sheer volume of the brass section overwhelmed the ensemble. Fischer took the final restatement of the brass chorale and coda at a fast pace, bringing cheers from the previously tepid audience.

For an encore, Fischer had a surprise. The musicians put down their instruments and regrouped in front of the conductor and sang Brahms’ “Abendständchen” (Evening Song) from Three Songs for six voice a capella choir and very well too. The women’s voices were particularly fine and ethereal. After a final group bow Fischer waved goodbye. Several audience members commented that the usually dry acoustics of the Kravis Center sounded fine yesterday, proving what a difference a great orchestra makes.

The Regional Arts Concert Series presents the Budapest Festival Orchestra under Ivan Fischer playing Mozart’s Magic Flute Overture and Violin Concerto No. 5 (Turkish) with soloist Pinchas Zukerman and Mendelssohn’s Overture and Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream with soprano Anna Lucia Richter, mezzo-soprano Barbara Kozelj and the Pro Musica Choir of Hungary  8 p.m. Tuesday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.; 561-832-7469.

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Tue Jan 20, 2015
at 2:09 pm
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