A festival dedicated to Hungary
Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, Barnabás Kelemen (violin), Zoltán Kocsis (conductor), works by Beethoven, Bartók, Debussy, Rachmaninov. Saint Mathieu church, Colmar, XIII Colmar International Festival.
Following a long established tradition, every Colmar International Festival is dedicated to one of the great artists of the past. The artistic director of the festival, Vladimir Spivakov, this year chose the Hungarian violinist József Szigeti, and in the broader framework, Hungary, the homeland of great violinists. In this way, Bartók was awarded a prominent role. At least one of his works featured in most of the 22 concerts from July 4th to 15th, but Liszt and Kodály were not forgotten either. Hungarian guest artists were pianists András Schiff and Dezső Ránki, cellist Miklós Perényi, violinist József Lendvay, the Kodály and Takács quartets, and the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra whose music director is Zoltán Kocsis.
In view of the festival goers slightly reserved behaviour, it was a brave decision, but by inviting artists of such high standard, the risk was a calculated one.
Space was also left for things in the “other” category: Berlioz's Rákóczi march opened the first concert of the Russian State Orchestra, conducted by Spivakov. Then on July 9th, we heard three of Brahm's Hungarian Dances and Beethoven's overture from 1811, St Steven, which was written as incidental music for a performance in Pest of Kotzebue's play.
In this concert, Zoltán Kocsis programmed such an rarely heard work (so often regarded as being second rate) in such a way that we could focus on it. Finding new beauties in this work is a test of the performers. It was immediately apparent that this orchestra is a marvellous tool, able to respond with highly attractive colours and faultless replies to the infinite varieties of demands made upon it by the conductor. Zoltán Kocsis uses his left hand very rarely and never to restrain the orchestra.
The security with which Kocsis, known primarily as a pianist, interpreted the three Bartók piano works (Burlesque, Scherzo and Fantasy), removing them of their pianistic idiom, was testament to his profound understanding of orchestral sources and his rich invention. This was only a transition to Bartók's Second Violin Concerto, which gave an opportunity to Barnabás Kelemen (born in Budapest in 1978, and winner of many competition prizes) to make his French debut, having already appeared in virtually every other European country. His playing was sensitive, relaxed, his sound concentrated but not heavy, and was in ideal harmony with Kocsis' conducting, with whom he shared the sensitivity for organic transitions, an essential condition in the performance of a continually developing work.
After the interval, the concert continued off the beaten path, taking on an experimental character. Between Debussy's Two Images (Gigue and Spring Ronde) Zoltán Kocsis placed Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead in place of Iberia. He asked the audience to only clap at the end, as though they were hearing a three movement work. Between the two sparkling sunny works, Debussy's web-like structure was sprinkled with a very funereal radiation, perfectly apt in mood. It was as if instead of an Utrillo a Goya was hung on the wall between two paintings by Monet. After this, it is hard to understand why conductors tend to be attracted to the routine, and not to discovering what is new.
(Le Monde, July 8th 2001)