This series of concerts was opened on Thursday November 6th by the National Philharmonic, conducted by Zoltán Kocsis, and featuring Attila Fekete and Jenő Jandó.
The ensemble is in England on a three week tour, and will give 14 concerts in 18 days in a variety of British towns and cities. The venue for this evening concert – part of the Magyar Magic festival – was the Fairfield Halls Theatre in Croydon, a southern suburb of London. Present at the concert was Hungary's Ambassador to Great Britain Béla Szombati and the director of the Hungarian Cultural Institute Katalin Bogyai. I have to confess that until now, I had never really heard of this concert hall. In terms of size, it can best be compared to the Barbican of the better known London concert halls,. It has 1750 seats and professionals regard its acoustics as being perhaps the best in southern England. Indeed the programme booklet enjoined the audience not to unwrap sweets during the performance, because the acoustics enable the scrunching to be heard throughout the hall to disturbing effect. As we have come to expect from Zoltán Kocsis, he offered an non-traditional concert programme; the ensemble opened with three of Kocsis's orchestral transcriptions of Rachmaninov songs performed sensitively by the tenor Attila Fekete. Kodály's Intermezzo created the Hungarian mood, in which the cimbalom playing of Ágnes Szakály played a major role. And then the first half of the concert was concluded by Liszt's piano concerto in A major. The great problem with such a frequently played repertoire piece like this concerto is precisely because it is so well known and everyone has their own preconceived image of it. Kocsis's interpretation was not earth shatteringly new, however, he did reward the audience with many beautiful details. Although this is a concerto, the orchestra is not subsumed to the solo instrument, offering a good opportunity to the conductor to extend either a grandiose and clearly expanded lyrical vision, or else a markedly characterised – which is to say complex – production. Kocsis exploited the possibilities granted by the score to the maximum, and his orchestra throughout was an equal partner to the soloist. The hero of the evening was without doubt Jenő Jandó, who interpreted the piano solo with self confidence. His touch, when needed was soft and caressing, but could also be robust and dense. Although the A major concerto is one of the most frequently performed works of the concerto repertoire, Jandó played the musical happenings with such marvelling performance style and childlike charm, as though wanting to suggest to the audience that they were encountering each new motif, surprising chord or new formal section for the first time. Among the most inspiring moments of the concerto was the gorgeous dialogue between cello and piano, which in the performance by Jandó and principal cellist Tamás Koó, disclosed the most infinite secrets of the heart. After the break, we heard Dvořák's New World Symphony, which Kocsis conducted throughout with restraint, taste and a sense of proportions that was without exaggeration. In particular, I would single out the performance of the brass section in the Allegro con fuoco fourth movement, who despite a couple of minor blemishes, confidently overcame the notorious difficulties of this movement. Following an enthusiastic reception, the orchestra responded with Berlioz's Rákóczi March. The greatest praise for the orchestra this evening came from a member of the audience, who was indeed fired up by the Magyar Magic of the orchestra's festival concert. Exaggerating just a little, he said that although Croydon is a one hour journey from Central London, he would happily travel to the ends of the earth to hear this orchestra again.
Ilona Kovács (London)
(Hungarian Radio, Új Zenei Újság (New Music Magazine))