Budapest orchestra shows fiery brilliance in lightish program

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The Adrienne Arsht Center was effectively converted into a cafe on the bank of the Danube Wednesday night with Tokay flowing freely, paprikash and palacsinta served, and Hungarian musicians providing an al fresco serenade.

The Budapest Festival Orchestra made its Miami debut at the Knight Concert Hall with an intriguing if strange program that displayed the ensemble’s corporate excellence and tonal gleam, but rather belatedly and to too little an extent. The event was presented by the Concert Association of Florida.

Founded in 1983, the Hungarian orchestra remains one of Europe’s finest, with whipcrack brilliance, rich string tone and refined woodwinds. And while enjoyable enough on its own terms, there was a musical lightness of being in the first half, which concentrated on gypsy-inspired fiddle music and showpieces.

Music director Ivan Fischer was an engaging host with his low-key verbal notes, charting the pungent influence of gypsy music on composers such as Brahms and Liszt, and introducing  cimbalom player Oszkar Okros and father-and-son violinists, Jozsef Lendvay, Sr. and Jr.

The evening began with Fischer and Okros alone on stage. Following a brief Cliff Notes guide on the cimbalom’s history, Okras performed a solo improvisation that segued from evocative melancholy to virtuosic brilliance, a beaming Fischer looking on.

With the full orchestra on board, Josef Lendvay, Sr., schooled in the Hungarian folk tradition, came out for a concertante retooling of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 3, interpolating a rustic gypsy solo cadenza. Brahms’ Hungarian Dances Nos. 15 and 1 were performed, the latter in what Fischer claimed was a spontaneous Magyar jam session with Lendvay and Okras adding solo lines on top of the orchestra, stylishly and with idiomatic zigeneur spirit.

Jozsef Lendvay the younger entered, looking like a Central European rock musician. Unlike his father, Lendvay Jr., is classically trained and displayed staggering virtuosity in a take-no-prisoners account of Sarasate’s uber-gypsy fiddle showpiece, Zigeunerweisen. 

Lendvay, pere et fils, joined forces for a duo-violin revamp on yet another Brahms Hungarian Dance, No. 11;  Fischer indicated this would be the first time father and son performed together, which seems unlikely since they’ve already done this program elsewhere on tour. Both violinists conveyed the music’s more dolce expression  but it made an odd choice to end the first half.

More substantial Brahms closed the evening  with the German composer’s Symphony No. 1. The sterling qualities of the Hungarian ensemble were finally in the spotlight rather than as backup band: a rich but refined sonority, polished corporate musicianship, and hair-trigger volatility.

Fischer’s take on the mighty C-minor symphony lacked nothing in intensity with an exhilarating coda and the drama of the long opening movement, proceeding in a seamless arc. Yet most striking were the refinement and elegance of the performance, qualities rarely on display in this repertoire.

Fischer’s direction was never idiosyncratic but full of inspired touches as with the pre-Allegro foreboding of the outer movements, his majestic drawing out of the climactic horn theme, and graceful attacca turn into  the finale’s openig bars. Perhaps most notable was the serenity of the slow movement, with silken strings and bucolic woodwinds that were chracterful yet perfectly integrated into the musical texture. It’s too bad that there were not more opportunities Wednesday for this wonderful orchestra to shine.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Budapest orchestra shows fiery brilliance in lightish program”

  1. Posted Jan 30, 2009 at 8:11 am by Robert Kaufman

    No wonder the Concert Assn is in financial trouble. Its email, received at 4:57 pm January 29th, promotes the concert performed the previous evening, the 28th.

  2. Posted Feb 03, 2009 at 2:24 pm by Danielle

    The orchestra’s superb timing, sensitivity, and responsiveness were thrilling. I so wish the performance of the symphony had been recorded. They were monsters…in a good way!

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Thu Jan 29, 2009
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