Ez történt

Hungarian Radio, New Music Magazine

2002. 04. 06.

The Music Director, and Principal chef, Zoltán Kocsis, invited his guests to a table laden with a gourmet's selection. We could describe every item on the menu as the chef's favourite, since the program alternated works by Debussy and Bartók, the two composers to whom Kocsis the pianist is most closely associated. This evening, the principal conductor stood before us not just as the wielder of the baton, but as the orchestrator of seven Debussy songs as well. By the same token, we were confronted with the always bizarre situation when he takes the accompanying role to another pianist – on this occasion Boris Berezovsky. That he chose to do this with Bartók's Second Piano Concerto, a work for which Kocsis has perhaps the most intimate understanding of anyone alive, made the situation more peculiar still.
 As an introduction, we heard Debussy's symphonic poem, Printemps. It was written in 1887, during the composer's unhappy years in Rome, although it is rarely performed these days. Throughout, Kocsis guided us through the young Debussy's dreamed up territory with perceptible sympathy. But when he directed our attention to those embryonic moods that would germinate in the first two pieces of Nocturnes, written decades later, it increase our sense of what was missing, rather than serving to satisfy us.
The soloist in the Bartók concerto, Boris Berezovsky, is a phenomenal pianist. I usually avoid praising the technical level of an instrumental musician, since these days, for young people competing with each other for a musical career, it is a minimal requirement for them to come to grips without blinking an eye with a composition that was formerly notorious for its demands. This time, I will make an exception: the ease of Berezovsky's keyboard playing, the agility of his fingers, the clarity of his playing that admits no physical restraints, is simply astonishing. Throughout the Bartók concerto, it was my feeling that he was juggling with such light hands that he could have been playing Mozart. But this also conceals a terrible trap in his interpretation: he seemed to find the ease of what he has to play completed absolves him of the duty to confront the weight of content in Bartók's music. He polished the asymmetrical phrases of the opening movement into regular phases, and flippantly tossed off the otherwise mordant stresses. He degraded the lament of the Adagio, with its cosmic solitude breaking down into sobs, into an insignificant descending scale. We listened almost scandalised: can all this really be read from Bartók's written score? Let us regard Berezovsky's interpretation as a warning sign: such tamed, breathtakingly virutosic Bartók, so seductively pleasing, can certainly find a clear path to the hearts of audiences that shrink away from emotional and harmonic dissonances. But the price of this success is that it embezzles that ineffable ethical surplus which separates Bartók from, let us say, Prokofiev.
Kocsis has orchestrated the seven Debussy songs with a lavish imagination, in places, he over eggs the cake. These orchestrations demonstrated the refinement appropriate to the French master, for example, in the way Kocsis transforms the gestures of the piano accompaniment into idiomatic instrumental lines and refined washes of orchestral colour. Kocsis's sensitivity to the strata of Debussy's style can be detected in the individually sensuous horn or cello melodies that occur in the Rondeau written to a verse by Musset with its evocation of operatic scenes. The same is true in the heart wrenching atmosphere of the Mahlerian Homeless Children's Christmas. Faun, with its imaginative and austere effects, evoking Stravinsky, became my favourite. True, the orchestral accompaniment does not spare the soloist, but Júlia Hajnóczy has still to mature to the high vocal standard required for performing French songs. She is still searching for the balance between the tone required for recitative and aria, and her tongue also keeps stumbling in her efforts to enunciated the Gallic syllables.
The closing work of the evening, Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste, promised much. Encounters with such colossal masterpieces so close to his fundamental musical interests, have always promised the most valuable fruit of Kocsis's activities as a conductor. The members of the National Philharmonic, who had skilfully accompanied in the piano concerto, seemed a little tired for the final trial of strength. Perhaps this is the reason why the performance did not seem to me to be quite right. The choice of tempo for the opening fugue was fascinatingly original (and faithful to the written score.) In the tension between the intervals of the theme, Kocsis seemed to be recalling Bartók's First Quartet, which itself owes much to Beethoven's C sharp minor quartet fugue. This approach dominated over concentration on a more crystalline enunciation of structure. Liveliness seemed to topple over into exaggeration in the ensuing Allegro, while in the Adagio, the shaded working of individual sections predominated over the experience of the overall shape. By the same token, Kocsis took the unifying features of the work, which Bartók himself stressed, with profound seriousness, such as the varied form of the fugue theme as it recurs in later movements; this was perhaps was enabled the cathartic resolution of the sweeping closing section. (National Philharmonic Orchestra, Music Academy, March 31st)

Péter Halász
(Hungarian Radio, Új Zenei Újság (New Music Magazine),  April 6th 2002.)