Two concerts at the Music Academy
The National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zoltán Kocsis implemented a significant widening of repertoire in their concert of April 27th. They performed almost entirely rarities; furthermore this programme had a concept, an arch, if you like. But we have long been used to Kocsis possessing superb taste and he always knows exactly what he is doing. Not only as a pianist but also as a conductor, he knows how to realise what he knows. They launched the evening with Stravinsky's Scherzo a la Russe, barely four minutes of buffoonery, but the joke, like all serious humour, is in the spirit of Watteau, his famous Gilles portrait broadcasting this degree of sadness in a tittering mask. This was a superb warm up exercise for the orchestra, and the mood of the audience also began to heat up, the high degree of rhythmic opulence, precision and shaded world of colour promising an important evening. And so it proved. The second work on the programme, Bartók's Four Orchestral Pieces, is one of the master's works which tends to dwell in the innermost reaches of music libraries, entirely undeservedly. Kocsis, the greatest Bartók pianist of our era, proved with a playful hand (and Kocsis is truly conducting with increased manual confidence) that this work sketched in 1912 and only finished in 1921, is one of the most interesting of Bartók's experiments. This interpretation also told us that the time has come to slightly reformat our picture of Bartók: besides the works that are played to death, the time has come for us to pay attention to the “subsidiary works” such as the one heard in this concert. That it is one side of Mandarin is without question; particularly the closing funeral march (Marcia Funebre) which quotes the figure of the imperishable Chinaman executed three times. The elemental power of the sound explosions of the Scherzo proclaims the astounding forward progress of the orchestra, and again, we can marvel at one of Kocsis's greatest virtues, his astonishingly pregnant feel for rhythm. The situation began to turn serious. And then followed Maurice Ravel's early 1902 song cycle Sheherezade (to verses by Thomas Klingsor) which is only very rarely performed. After the Bartók nightmare, this colourful murmuring (Adorno: “Ravel was the greatest master of bell-like small forms.”) The soloist was Katalin Károlyi who lives in France and who sang with perfect pronunciation, beautifully, and with culture. Although in the first song (Asie), she was deficient in the depiction of different characters, in the other two songs, she proved she has a superb sense of humour.
After the break, there was an apparent small rest: Rachmaninov piano pieces orchestrated by Respighi. austere, strange post-Romanticism: how did this get here? – we might have asked. But then the penny dropped: the fourth piece, the Study in C minor, bears the title Funeral March, again an inner rhyme, just as the first work, the Crowd at the Fair, which evokes Petrushka, one of the principal works of Stravinsky's youth. And then came the crowning work of the concert, the Symphony in Three Movements, Stravinsky's “war” composition is rarely performed great music with spectacular solos (piano, woodwind!). This was a memorable concert, which the audience received with sparse applause – as to why, this is one of the great secrets (…)
– csonta –
(Magyar Narancs, May 8, 2003)