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Kocsis’ Hungary

2001. 07. 08.

Zoltán Kocsis is both a masterly pianist and conductor.

After Renaud Capucon and Frank Braley's highly successful and momentous concert yesterday afternoon, Zoltán Kocsis put on a breathtaking performance.
It was not possible to ignore a conductor who regarded Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra as his own affair, as though he himself had actually written it. In the past Ferenc Fricsay approached the work with an interpretation that aimed for rigour and maximum accuracy. As a result, it led him to be regarded in the post-war years as the Hungarian exemplar. This incomparable vision was absolutely authentic. Others followed him in this geographical “vivarium” where so many artists have served music with daily naturalness.
Zoltán Kocsis is one of the living links in this unbelievable musical chain, and is continuing this triumphant tradition in the footsteps of his predecessors Ferencsik, Farkas, Ligeti and Kurtág.
The symbol of Hungary may be the horse, or the sword or the melody, but at the same time it is the country of a thousand contradictions. The Concerto for Orchestra is the reflection in the mirror of a long suffering people. It is divided by culture, history, endless wars and also artistry. In spite of these sufferings, the Hungarians have been capable of creating a true identity. Besides a culture that extends beyond its boundaries and a series of invaders each more cruel than the last, Hungary has preserved its ancient flame untouched. And also its own temperament.

Like a lesson in geography
On Friday evening in the splendid Saint-Mathieu hall, we could barely hold back emotions, so present was this spirit, wrapped into this atmosphere full of miracles: Brahms and his Hungarian Dances, which implanted so many flowers into the Hungarian soil; the indispensable Liszt and his famous Piano Concerto No. 1 with its many pitfalls, and finally, Bartók who has been omnipresent at the festival.
Kocsis expounded a lesson in geography before us in the purist Hungarian idiom, using an alphabet which does not derive from just any grammar, but straight from his spiritual ancestors. Which should we rather gape at, the conductor or the pianist? After all, he is of the first order in both disciplines.
In the first part, kicking aside all conventions, Kocsis abandoned the well worn path to reveal astonishing things. This truly succeeded for him. He played breathtakingly with rhythms and surfaces, taking the audience with him like a magician to secret locations. In the second half of the concert, in Bartók, he came close to the level of Fricsay and the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra followed him. I nearly wrote that they anticipated him, so immense was the complicity between them. Each music stand came alive under the maestro's hand. The unity was perfect, they could bring out the most minute details. It was a breathtaking evening, like the siege of natural elements currently raining down on the city.

Michael Schuller
(L'Alsace, July 8th 2001.)