The concert by the National Philharmonic Orchestra pitted the music of Bartók and Debussy against each other. As the opening number, Zoltán Kocsis conducted a rarely heard composition: Debussy's symphonic poem Printemps. This is an early work (1887), written while the composer was enduring his Prix de Rome scholarship. Following on from Kocsis's baton, the Tres modéré opening movement suggested a vision of peaceful, slow exuberance – the performance emphasised the richness of colour, the softness of the woodwind and string harmonies as well as rhythmic flexibility. In the interpretation of the second movement (Moderé), it was a restless shimmering and dynamism that came to the fore: in Kocsis's formal construction, jubilation and above all, the sense of dance motion gradually became the determining factor
Boris Berezovsky was a disappointment in Bartók's 2nd Piano Concerto. This internationally famous musician from the new generation of young Russian pianists has astonished Hungarian audiences in recent years, performing both Liszt and Shostakovich as a soloist. To be perfectly honest, I had doubts before the performance whether this pianist with his virtuoso-romantic temperament would be at home in Bartók's world. Well, the indications are that he is not. His performance left a twofold sense of what was missing: Berezovsky partly misunderstood the character world of the composition, and partly – and perhaps this is the greater mistake -did not assess the composition according to its book value, so to speak. There was no humility in the face of Bartók's work. In his interpretation, rhythm came to the fore as did demonic impetus, but at the cost of the work's playfulness which was pushed into the background. In the outer movements, he played robustly and with wildness, employing a grand and sometimes, thunderous sound. The alien nature of his approach became most apparent in the Adagio: in the outer sections, with their lonely monologue character, there was a lack of depth or personal tone. As for humility: Berezovsky, the super-secure virtuoso, who once played all of Liszt's Transcendental Studies in Budapest in a single sitting, perhaps did not sense Bartók's concerto to be sufficiently great a challenge, and as usually happens, immodesty resulted in a production augmented with mistakes.
The second half of the concert began with seven Debussy songs which we could hear in Zoltán Kocsis's own orchestration. The songs derive from different periods of the composer's career, and originally were furnished with piano accompaniments only. On this occasion, Kocsis's orchestration offered us a splendid travel in time, along the lines of what would have happened if…: what would have happened if Debussy had originally cloaked these songs in symphonic garments? In the orchestration of the accompaniment, the listener can sense what Kocsis's knows about Debussy as both pianist and conductor – this was demonstrated by the refinement of colour, the naturalness with which the instruments were treated, and since this is music with verbal texts, the imagination in depicting atmosphere. In all senses, I felt that the performance of the soprano soloist, Júlia Hajnóczy, was problematic. Time and again, there were failings in her enunciation of the French text, and in the majority of songs, I missed in her performing style a sense of freedom and the capability to visualise. My gravest misgivings concerned the resilience of her voice and its colour: I often sensed the production was vocally wan; frequently it seemed that her voice was incapable of penetrating the curtain of symphonic texture that surrounded it. It would be good to hear this cycle again in the near future with a different soloist, to know whether there was too little voice or too much orchestration.
The best way to characterise the performance of the Bartók composition that ended the concert, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste, was simply as well seasoned. Zoltán Kocsis, who as a performer has participated in this great symphony like composition of symphonic stature (let us cast our minds to 1986 set of 3 CDs with the Festival Orchestra were Kocsis played not only the 3 concertos but also the piano part of Music.) evidently chose not to retain the 'ebullience' of this earlier performance, but rather characterised his reading with a kind of clarification. This was shown by his authentic tempos devoid of extremes, and characterisation unfolding with natural gestures from the music's content. The relaxed rhythm and emphasis in its dynamism also suggested his quest to create the required balance.
(31st March. -Music Academy)
(May 2002 Muzsika)