The Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra has a complex but illustrious history. It has worked with luminaries such as Dorati, Mehta, Maazel, Barbirolli, Stokowski, and Abbado – and, since 1997, its director has been Zoltan Kocsis. With such a pedigree comes high expectations, which were triumphantly justified in this fine concert.
Ravel composed Le Tombeau de Couperin for piano, but later orchestrated four of the six movements. Kocsis has orchestrated the other two, and his work is convincing. Apart from a few moments of unlikely razzmatazz in the concluding Toccata, Kocsis was indiscernible from Ravel. The Hungarian orchestra was beguilingly translucent, and delighted in the light, articulate score. And, although it was also capable of considerable power and volume, Kocsis never forced himself onto the performance.
Bartok's Piano Concerto No 3, the last and mellowest of his offerings in that genre, was similarly organic and comfortably musical. Pianist Jeno Jando is apparently one of the most recorded artists today, no doubt due to his Naxos catalogue containing all the sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven, and also the complete piano concertos of the former. Jando is also an accomplished interpreter of later works, and his Bartok was sensitive to delicate small details. The central Adagio Religioso was notably soft and tender, although the Allegro Vivace proved that the Hungarians can supply raucous energy just as easily. Jando and his compatriot orchestra's effortless sound revealed a deeply satisfying and honest musicianship.
Richard Strauss's tone poem Macbeth, loosely inspired by Shakespeare's play, also glowed with musicality. The powerful opening was menacing, yet elsewhere Kocsis encouraged poetic tastefulness. The performance contained ominous brooding terror and darkness, and concluded with uncompromisingly taut tragedy. Yet this serious work was massively enjoyable in these hands, and even Ravel's repetitious and over-familiar Bolero was refreshingly produced as a fresh and spontaneous finale.