We are Hungarians who are awaiting the New World when we accede [the EU] in spring – said Katalin Bogyay, the director of the London Hungarian Cultural Centre, talking about the programme of the National Philharmonic Orchestra.
The ensemble in the opening concert of Magyar Magic, played Kodály, Liszt, and finally Dvořák's New World symphony.
The Fairfield Halls, which has superb acoustics, is situated in a suburban district of London, and has the capacity for over a thousand people – and the concert was a full house.
At the end of the concert, a storm of applause and shouts of bravo – unusual here – were heard for Zoltán Kocsis and his orchestra. Kocsis proved with the reformed National Philharmonic Orchestra, every member of which had to re-audition in 2000, that he was right: their artistic level has truly leapt forward.
They began with Rachmaninov songs, which Kocsis reworked from piano accompaniments for large orchestra. The musicians brought with them the young tenor Attila Fekete, who already can boast of an international career. He confirmed expectations with the pleasant colour of his voice, his vocal power and his sensitivity. The song setting Bryusov's verse made a profound impact, and the dazzling poetry of the Puskin lines also came across subtly in Attila Fekete's singing, while he had the opportunity to present a passionate tenor aria with the setting of Afanasy Fet's love poem.
We Hungarians know the intermezzo from Kodály's Háry János, the suite the composer extracted from his opera, by heart. We looked on as the English greeted this popular work with terrific approval: the strings had great momentum while the woodwind communicated the character of the work with immense power.
Next Jenő Jandó came to the stage to perform Franz Liszt's concerto in A major. This popular piano concerto with its intimate lyricism seemed tailor made for Jandó, who assumed Lisztian robes with ease.
Dvořák's New World symphony has certainly been popularised to death in concerts and is a work that tests neither the audience nor orchestra. Which presumably was the intention. Negro spirituals left their mark on his work which was composed in America, as did Native American folk music motifs, but – as was apparent in the National Philharmonic Orchestra's performance – it was Czech national romanticism that triumphed.
Katalin Metz (London)