Ez történt

Hungarian Radio, New Music Magazine (Új Zenei Újság)

2002. 10. 12.

Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss – two composers whose presence in the same concert might raise eyebrows were it not for a third composer, who connects to both since he was indebted to both: Béla Bartók. Last Friday, Zoltán Kocsis led the National Philharmonic Orchestra in a truly interesting program of a rare work each by Debussy and Richard Strauss. Both were early compositions: Debussy's Fantasy for piano and orchestra finished in 1889, and Strauss's symphonic fantasy of 1886, Aus Italien. They were juxtaposed with a Bartók composition, Dance Suite, written in 1923 for the jubilee concert marking the fiftieth anniversary of the unification of Budapest. To be perfectly honest, I don't understand why, if the German and French works were selected because of their common features, the conductor did not also select an early work by Bartók, which clearly betrays the influence of both composers – perhaps the Kossuth Symphony of 1903, which was unmistakably written while Bartók was in the thrall of the Lisztian and Straussian symphonic poems. Or else the Two Pictures from 1910, which are also rarely heard and which demonstrate the clear influence of Debussy. By contrast, Dance Suite, with its folk music inspiration and unique internationalism, really does not demonstrate any relationship to either Strauss of Debussy.

The critic's worries were assuaged, because in a sense, Kocsis conducted Dance Suite in the spirit of discovery. I could mention the finest details, worked out with minute precision, of which this work is rarely the beneficiary – but this observation was self-evident. Indeed these days, there is no longer anything unusual in such praise for this orchestra. Last Friday at the Vigado, everything was performed under the aegis of maximalism. A new feature of Kocsis's reading – for me at least – was that he depicted the Dance Suite, which is habitually approached with rustic characters, crude colours and a kind uniform folksy “barbaro-mood”, with an absolute unprejudiced multiplicity of approach. It felt as if he views the work as a statue to be inspected from all angles. He devoted lavish care to bring out the pastel tones, softness and lyricism of its relief work. As a result, we witnessed a full blooded and balanced interpretation of Dance Suite, which is rarely heard in the Hungarian concert hall.
Many people jealously guard on their shelves Kocsis's Philips recording of six year's ago, in which he performed the two Ravel piano concertos with Iván Fischer and the Festival Orchestra, along with Debussy's youthful Fantasy, which is essentially a concerto work. On this occasion the former soloist changed his role and directed the performance from the conductor's podium. The piano part was taken by Kocsis's discovery, Ingrid Fliter, making her third appearance in Hungary. The 29 year old Argentinian pianist had previously played concerto works by Prokofiev and Chopin, and this time showed that she is quite at home in the world of fin-de-siécle French music. Her performance radiated the innocent colourful  youthfulness which is unique to Debussy's early masterpieces. Her refinement of keyboard touch is extraordinary, her tone always flexible, clear and metallic, her range of colours virtually infinite, and her dynamics subtly shaded – this time we could especially marvel at the different degrees of her pianos. This is all coupled with a unique duality which both encompasses rhythmic tension and flexible interpretation, and the rangy shaping of melody which is always logically articulated. To be concise: we heard a performance where virtuosity did not contradict poetry.
 The  “Italian Symphony”, Aus Italien, by the young Ricard Strauss is a real “barnstormer” for conductor and orchestra alike. We can call it this because the mere programming of this virtually unperformed work itself attracts increased attention. But “barnstorming” suits the performance as well, because its superb solos, wide ranging symphonic canvasses and lush colours makes it doubly rewarding. Only when the orchestra performs it as it deserves, we should add, which in view of the composition's demands, is no small order. This four movement work received a text book performance thanks to Zoltán Kocsis's conducting with its decisive form and dramatic contrasts. The orchestra deserves full marks for their rich and rounded tuttis, as do the soloists and chamber groupings; the diverse characters of the work manifested themselves in all their myriad variety – it is enough to just mention the 2nd movement which received an authentic interpretation, exposing not Italian but Brahmsian influence. But we can equally well recall the Neopolitan atmosphere of the finale, and the sweeping temperament of the Funiculi, funicula melody.

Csengery Kristóf
(Hungarian Radio, New Music Magazine,  12 Oktober 2002; Muzsika, December 2002)