Concerto Budapest at Symphony Hall review

HUNGARIAN ORCHESTRA DELIGHTS SYMPHONY HALL

Concerto Budapest Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall ★★★★

The modern template for playing Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra was shaped by the famous recordings by èmigrè Hungarian conductors Reiner, Ormandy and Solti. Glittering and spiky, its metallic sheen honed in performances by the powerhouse orchestras of Chicago and Philadelphia. This Budapest performance was refreshingly different; less bold perhaps but with a compensating tenderness and sly humour. In his time as leader of the Keller Quartet the conductor András Keller was a noted exponent of Bartók's six string quartets so it was no surprise that chamber-music intimacy was often in evidence. In these days of homogenized orchestral sound the mellow Budapest wind section was a joy to hear, reedier and with a little more vibrato than usual. Their oboist had a demanding night – Bartok works him hard – and was outstanding. The 'Elegia' was ideally suited to Keller's approach; Bartók's mysterious, twittering night-music rendered in many crepuscular shades. The 'Intermezzo interrotto' – with its tuba and trombone raspberry rebuff to Shostakovich's 'Leningrad' symphony – was an amiable leg-pull, a Mozartian musical jest rather than the rude, crude affront it often is.

The Budapest winds were again a delight in Mozart Piano's Concerto No. 23 in A major where the composer lavished care on their part. The slow movement's interplay between oboe, clarinet, bassoon and flute was like an operatic quartet. It's a special movement; the only one of his piano concertos marked 'Adagio' and one of the few in a minor key. The soloist's written line is spare – the ever-busy Mozart would have improvised it while performing – and Angela Hewitt decided to leave it that way rather than elaborate it. It had, therefore, a spare, gaunt beauty like branches on a tree in autumn having shed most of its notes. Elsewhere Hewitt's familiar traits of crispness and clarity were in evidence and the finale was pleasantly insouciant. The performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 was immensely satisfying under Keller: brisk and energetic, low on rhetoric, high on drama. In the Andante there were sylvan passages where the Budapest winds reminded one that the 'Pastoral' was next on Beethoven's agenda.

Norman Stinchcombe

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