Zoltán Kocsis and his orchestra have truly raised the bar. They launched this year's concert season with an opening height that the average competitor usually only sees cleared watching from the edge of the track.
And yet from now on, the bar will be raised even higher. A few supporters were worrying: wouldn't it have been tactically wiser to have started with a lower entry height, to tune up for this year with a few safe warm up exercises? The optimists sweep these kinds of worries aside with sparking eyes, and enthuse with blushed faces: calm down! Just think what is still to come! Although it is unfair to use this kind of pompous sports journalism to talk about an orchestra, many after this first concert have tried to tip and predict the expected standard of the season. I won't make prophesies myself, I am satisfied to simply describe the heights, which sitting on the right middle balcony at the Music Academy, I witnessed and heard last Monday.
The first “jump” gifted the public with some joyous minutes. The concert began with Ernő Dohnányi's five orchestral bagatelles, Symphonic Minutes. This is one of those Dohnányi works that is not awaiting rediscovery: conductors, orchestras and public have long taken this extremely witty and consummately composed work to their hearts. A good seventy years ago, Aladár Tóth expressed his frank enthusiasm for this divertimento, which he said served to entertain the spirit and uplift the soul. I myself do not remember having ever heard this colourful and dazzling score performed in such a clear and transparent manner. It was remarkably compact and unified; the sparkling of the woodwind emerging from a dynamically minutely shaded background of string sound. Kocsis took lively tempos, the characters of individual movements were self-confidently convincing and created independent worlds of each of the five miniatures.
After a quick rearrangement of the podium, the programme continued with Béla Bartók's Second Piano Concerto. The soloist was Dezső Ránki. The performance proved just how a concert cannot be compared to anything else, cannot be replaced by anything else, and is capable of offering an infinitely compact experience. An experience, in which contradictory impressions mix together, both disturbing and creating a fecund uncertainty within the listener. I feel that of the pieces performed in this concert programme, it was the Bartók composition that could still be worked on, and yet it was an interpretation which revealed to the audience the most profound secrets between music and performing. It opened up such vistas, from which retrospectively the slight confusion in the opening bars of the work whither to insignificance, as does the odd hiccup in the dialogue between soloist and orchestra. Years from now, we will remember this performance and its dramatic tensions. We know pianists who from his first entrance seize the Second Piano Concerto with elemental power and apparently unmatchable dynamism, and are able to keep this dynamism taut until the final chord. This ability is only partly one of artistic ability, it depends equally on the pianist's nervous system and muscle tone. On Monday, one such pianist was standing on the conductor's podium.
Ránki is not like Kocsis in this respect. In the first movement, he did not stand at the head of the orchestra, he did not place himself in the centre of the action. He was a part of events but did not direct them. Ránki preserved his energy for shaping the Adagio, the movement which György Kroó said “is the most important section of the work, the greatest in length and gigantic in its intensity. A bottomless well of emotions.” As Ránki penetrated the music, in truth it can only described as “descended” into it. It seems he finds his true home in this world, where other pianists dare not glance. Here he charged himself up with the energy which hurtles the composition to its conclusion. He showed it first in the central section of the slow movement, its secretive scherzo, finding what powers are forming in the deep. His pianism in the finale spoke of a nervous system and muscle tone with we would never have attributed to him based on the first movement.
After the break, we heard Schubert's “Great” C major symphony. The National Philharmonic Orchestra, understandably, could not repeat the miracle of the Bartók concerto. But this interpretation could turn any other day into a festival. The entire production was characterised by carefully worked out details, stunning individual achievements and lush ensemble playing. The A minor Andante movement left the deepest impression on me. The two major key episodes were particularly beautiful, Kocsis paired such lively images and characters to the tonalities which sadly over the past 100 to 150 years, we have been forced to forget. This Andante was not conspicuous for its heavenly length, it was merely heavenly.
(Hungarian Radio, New Music Magazine, October 2, 2004)