The Hungarian National Philharmonic finished off its regular concert season with a bang on May 26 with an exciting performance of Brahms's Symphony No 2. Maestro Zoltán Kocsis conducted.
Brahms is, more often than not, treated to a rather lugubrious interpretation, with draggy tempos and thick orchestral colors.
Not with Kocsis. He stuck to his hallmark crack-the-whip, hell-for-leather brisk tempos and gave this classic-romantic symphony a feisty reading. By keeping the tempos flowing Kocsis avoided the heavy sounds that dominate too many performances of the Second and gave it a flattering classical clarity.
Strength and clear direction in Brahms's music are all too often undercut by the conflicted nature of his writing – too much complexity, too many cross-rhythms – and Kocsis's interpretation rescued it from this quagmire.
Though the end of the finale had a few bloopers in the trombones, the overall effect was still powerful, and Tamás Zempléni's horn solo in the slow movement was beautiful.
The first half of the concert made less of an effect. The National Philharmonic played brilliantly in Richard Strauss's tone poem Macbeth, but the piece itself does not have the same verve as the more popular tone poems, such as Don Juan.
The orchestra was similarly exemplary in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No 1, but the soloist, Ilya Gringolts, failed to overwhelm the audience because of his rather small sound and introspective style, which never seemed to take off into the excitement one expects from a soloist. His encore, even more introspective than what came before, did nothing to change that impression. Nevertheless, all's well that ends well, and the National Philharmonic certainly delivered in the Brahms.
A good ending will be followed by a good beginning next fall. The National Philharmonic has posted its concert program and season ticket options for the coming season. Three season tickets are on offer for the fall, two orchestral and one chamber music. In addition, there is a ticket for the National Choir. The chamber music ticket consists of three concerts in the Academy of Sciences (Ft4,500), while the others consist of six concerts each in the National Philharmonic's home, the National Concert Hall (Ft8,000-Ft21,000).
Some of the highlights of the Ferencsik Ticket include Mahler's Symphony No 4, Bartók's ballet The Wooden Prince (with puppets!) and Ives's Three Places in New England. Some of the soloists are the Amadinda Percussion Ensemble and soprano Mitilineou Cleo.
The Klemperer Ticket will feature Mahler's Symphony No 7, Strauss's Don Quixote, Debussy's Nocturnes, Dvorak's New World Symphony, and Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
Soloists include violist László Bársony and cellist Miklós Perényi in Don Quixote, and pianist György Oravecz in the Rachmaninov. Among the works to be performed by the National Choir in its 20 Year Jubilee are Verdi's Requiem, Bernstein's Symphony No 3 (Kaddish) and Rossini's Stabat Mater. You needn't wait until next season to enjoy music making by the National Philharmonic and the National Choir.
On three Saturdays in July (16, 23, 30), Beethoven reigns supreme in his old stomping ground of the park of the Brunsvik Palace in Martonvásár (easily reached by public transport and by car from Budapest). The two ensembles team up in such works as the Mass in C major, the Choral Fantasy and Symphony No 9. The orchestra will also present Symphonies Nos 1, 3 and 5 and the Leonora Overture No 3. Concerts begin at 7pm.
For more information about the season tickets, call 411-6636, or visit the Philharmonic's homepage at www.hunphilharmonic.org.hu
(The Budapest Sun, June 9, 2005)