Great event. Great fuss, Great hall. Great composer. Great works. Great performers. Great preparations. Great expectation. Great exodus. Great queue in the cloakroom. Great search for our seats. Great distance. Great acoustics. Great coughing. Great interval. Great show of strength. And a great victory for music.
This is perhaps how we can sum up the very first concert to be held between the walls of the Palace of Arts / National Concert Hall on January 8th 2005, which was given by the National Philharmonic Orchestra with some superb soloists and all conducted by Zoltán Kocsis. If we have given away the ending of this piece, the reason is that it would be hypocritical to write about this concert without speaking of the circumstances that made it unique. Although it was emphasised as a “dress rehearsal” for the new concert hall, there were matters which can be over looked once, which on the twenty fifth occasion would require a rather generous nature to do so (particularly if we ourselves don't believe it.) Let's call this officially the “very first” and leave it at that. One can rather suspect that many coming to this concert on January 8th were not attracted by Mozart, or even Kocsis, Andra Rost or Barnabas Kelemen, but the novelty, the historic moment. We may also suspect that the writer of these lines, if he really forces himself, will not write any more nonsense that others haven't already written, and in direct proportion to the weight and grandeur of the event. So the writer of these lines gives up on all this and refers the reader back to where we began: the triumph of music.
This could be suspected from the choice of programme. It could be predicted: there were some who questioned whether such a Mozart programme was sufficiently festive, wouldn't it be rather better to have performed, for example, Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand, or some other Great Thing with the collaboration of all the amateur and professional ensembles. May be Bánk Ban? Or should they do quite the opposite? Luckily, it was musical considerations which led those who devised this programme, and although perhaps they might have taken its duration into account for the image of completeness to shimmer before our eyes. Between the two G minor symphonies, some of Mozart's less frequently heard independent concerto movements were performed: concert rondos and arias, and if they were not exactly a comprehensive selection, they were in sufficient numbers to allow not only a number of soloists to participate at the concert but helped us do justice to the critical aspect of the acoustic test performance (I mean we, the audience – it is good pedagogy, a good message to say that you, the audience are needed to say you liked it.) On this basis, it was not a problem that we heard the C major andante for flute and orchestra and the rondo for horn and orchestra in E flat major, although I suspect that we (the audience) would not have missed them had they not been programmed. Personally though I was overjoyed with the other pieces: on December 23rd, we heard Barnabás Kelemen performing the B flat major rondo, this time its pair in C major sounded even better. The three concert arias are not performed enough considering their intrinsic interest. And finally there was nothing wrong with the horn rondo (which I regard as Mozart's weakest movement for horn and orchestra) or the pleasant music of the C major flute andante. Additionally two extra soloists could take to the stage.
But these are still just the circumstances, where was the music? I was a little worried, sitting in the very centre of the second floor central balcony, I suspected rather than saw the distant oboe (or bassoon or horn) but when the “small” G minor symphony commence, it transpired there really is an oboe (or bassoon or horn) and it was audible as well! They say that on the ground floor it is not possible to hear everything well until they adjusted something – where I was seated, I found the acoustic superb throughout. The orchestra sounded very subtle across these distances. The warm tone of the lower strings, the unified sonority of the violins not only paid tribute to the acoustics: of course, an oboe solo cannot be carved from wood (or stone) by acoustic engineers. In other words, even in the first movement, the orchestra was superb. And yet it is the memory of the second movement that I will take with me from the entire concert to that uninhabited island: the melody tethered with upbeats, the ideally smooth response of the bassoons – I have never heard this music sound like this anywhere before. Kocsis adhered to every written repeat (which he did throughout the concert) – perhaps it was with a recording in mind because in the event of a problem, there is something to replace it with. Unfortunately the horns will need retouching in the minuet movement but the number of glitches was still tolerable (but only just.) I ought to single out the pianissimos from the two outer movements. After the Bachian conclusion of this work, I wondered as I have many times before, whether the “small” G minor symphony is really not a rather unjust term for this work.
Barnabás Kelemen was the first soloist and he again showed his December form in the B flat major rondo: in his playful, free, richly ornamented performance, I felt that his otherwise skilful cadenza was a little excessive. Of the orchestra, I'd like to mention the horns. Generally speaking the orchestra, conductor and soloist understood each other. A good deal better than in the following number, which saw Andrea Rost singing the concert aria “Nehmt meinen Dank”. This was the same Andrea Rost who today is finally also regarded as one of the greatest stars in Hungary, whose Mozart album has just been released, and who gave a long interview to Muzsika in October and was its cover photograph. On this evening, I have to say, I did not regard her as the best soloist. The first aria she sang is tender and songlike but perhaps because of the occasion, she wanted to wheel out a weighty major achievement, which came at the expense of naturalness. In truth, I only liked her voice in its middle register, but she did perform all three pieces with great musicality.
Rather more than can be said of horn player László Gál, who failed to introduce the melody cleanly even once. Here, it seemed, Kocsis and the orchestra had plenty to accompany and yet this was the most forgettable part of the concert. László Gál is capable of seducing refined, beautiful sonorities from his instrument but he was far less precise or clean than the other soloists at the concert. This made this rondo a pleasant and good work, a fine transition before the second Rost aria.
The aria “Ch'io mi scordi di te” also features a piano, and so Kocsis conducted the orchestra from behind his instrument. In appearance, it seemed that there was less routine in this dual role, because he was more an accompanist here, while in “Nehmt meinen Dank” he had powerfully led the soloist. This Donna Elvira like aria is not easy music, but perhaps it suits Andrea Rost's personality better than the earlier one, because it requires a lower register and more serious tone. After an extended interval, the concert continued with Mozart's C major Andante for flute and orchestra, K 315. The soloist was Anita Szabó who perhaps created the greatest unity with the orchestra of all the soloists. The work came across as joyous music, particularly the string pizzicato and above it, the playing of the wood wind: it sounded superb. Then Barnabás Kelemen played another C major work, the Rondo K 373, with greater restraint than he showed in the B flat major work. Of all these soloist, it was clear just how well Kocsis and Kelemen are used to each other and that in the performance, this mutual confidence communicated itself.
There was still one concert aria to come, the Gluck inspired “Bella mia fiamma”. Andrea Rost perhaps sang this one the most beautifully although it is probably the hardest to characterise of them all. And although it was now 10 o'clock in the evening, the most famous work on the programme, the “great” G minor symphony was still to come.
But it was worth the wait. The performances of the two G minor symphonies complimented each other, the later work became perhaps more sweeping and powerful but in no way less rich in details. If I have to mention anything, it would be the minuet, but the totality of the symphony was realised as is rarely heard in a concert: the orchestra with Barnabás Kelemen stepping in as concert master gave us a unified beautiful performance.
This concert was not just one of many. Particularly in the performance of the two symphonies, the already expectedly superb standard of the National Philharmonic Orchestra was even more prominent. Kocsis conducted perhaps with less freedom and improvisation than he tends to these days, for example at the recent Christmas concert, as though the performance really was one for eternity. From my point of view, this distinction is most certainly not aesthetic, perhaps it just means I'd be delighted to hear these works again some time played like this.
Perhaps others heard this and that differently to me, but I insist that ultimately the concert itself was about music. This concert was not one among many, and not because of the circumstances. Independent of all these, the music triumphed over them or perhaps with their complicity.
January 8, 2005, 19:30 National Concert Hall (Budapest) – National Philharmonic Orchestra: Mozart Concert, The First Concert at the new National Concert Hall; Mozart: Symphony in G minor, K 183; Concert Rondo in B flat major, K 269; “Nehmt meinen Dank, ihr holden Gönner!” – concert aria, K 383; E flat major concert rondo, K 371; “Ch'io mi scordi di te” – concert aria, K 505; Andante in C major, K 315; Rondo in C major, K 373; “Bella mia fiamma” – concert aria, K 528; Symphony in G minor, K 550; soloists: Barnabás Kelemen (violin), Andrea Rost (soprano), László Gál (horn), Anita Szabó (flute); conductor and pianist: Zoltán Kocsis
(Fidelio, January 10, 2005)