Budapest Festival Orchestra/Fischer/Hough - review

Royal Festival Hall, London

This concert apparently marked several occasions, such as the Hungarian presidency of the EU and the start of the Liszt bicentenary. But none proved nearly as worth celebrating as the return to London of the Budapest Festival Orchestra and its founder, the conductor Ivan Fischer.

Haydn's "Oxford" Symphony, No 92, oozed sunshine thanks to warm, tender strings, a graceful solo flute and Fischer's ebullience. The orchestra sounded bright and forward. Still, in Liszt's Concerto No 1 it could barely compete with Stephen Hough's piano. Hough's performance was tremendous, balancing muscle with intelligence, stamina with wit. Showy flourishes were left hanging like questions or dispatched with insouciance; the finale was carried by mounting exhilaration. Hough wound down with Liszt's Andantino, a brief and beautifully introspective encore.

For Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony the orchestra was joined by a slender, 12-foot-high tree, right in front of Fischer's podium. If that raised a smile, the pointed violin trills in the Scene by the Brook, which could mean only the arrival of stinging insects, marked Fischer out as a musical joker as well.

Around the tree sat the principal flute, clarinet and oboe. The other woodwinds were dotted among the strings, and the sound was more supple and less formal as a result. But that was also down to Fischer's interpretation. The final Shepherd's Song can seem triumphal, as if man has defeated the storm, but Fischer offered a gentler alternative that was still a satisfying culmination: the shepherd sitting, admiring the view.

As encores, there were a zippily idiomatic Brahms Hungarian Dance, and Johann Strauss's Peasants' Polka. Surely the average Festival Hall audience member would rather gnaw their own hands off than do anything so naff as clap along? Yes, but clearly this was the kind of concert that brings the guard down.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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