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Bravura approaches: Zoltán Kocsis and Liszt works at the Colmar Festival

2001. 07. 10.

Homage á Jószef Szigeti, the great Hungarian violinist and also the great musical traditions of his homeland – excluding all obviously contemporary connections – formed the basis of the 13th International Colmar Summer Festival. Many leading and famous Hungarian musical personalities from modern-day Hungary (or youngsters aspiring to join them) gave concerts in the small Alsace town. Alongside distinguished Hungarian pianists András Schiff (14th of July) and Dezső Ránki (12th of July) was Zoltán Kocsis, famous for his dedication to the music of Bartók, who for many years has also wielded the conductor's baton. For four years, he has been the director of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra. This orchestra and the Budapest Festival Orchestra – who were guests at Colmar on July 12th, 13th and 15th – are among the leading Hungarian ensembles.
On the festival weekend, Kocsis seized the opportunity during the orchestra's second concert to daringly assume the role of both soloist and conductor in the Liszt First Piano Concerto. The result was as imposing as it was contradictory. Not because the orchestral unity was shaken, or that the play between orchestra and solo instrument was ended. At the same time though, at the transitions, the musical manner of performance could be perceived, with the attention grabbing dynamic giving way to a treatment of tempos that was more akin to a wood engraving. Despite every endeavour to the contrary, the music unfolded by degree, instead of filling the concert hall as a living structure. To some extent. It undermined the inner tension in this scintillating work. All this upset the great pianists concentration and accuracy – and in places, he encouraged the orchestra to be too harsh and bloated.
In the introductory section of the selection of Brahm's Hungarian Dances, which were played with a free, individual, perhaps even capricious choice of tempo, there were certain inaccuracies, but the determined brilliancy of the orchestral performance could also be perceived. In the performance of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, the woodwinds and brass performed magnificently in their solo and concertante roles, while the strings played the upper lines with great clarity… On this evening, in this performance reflecting an ever higher aspiration for quality, it was evident that the orchestra had attained the desired level for such a festival.

Fritz Wintterlin
(Badische Zeitung)