If a fairy were to appear and say: “my dear boy, you are living in Budapest, you know that nothing can be perfect, so please make a choice. Should the new concert hall be beautiful or should it have good acoustics?” I don't think I would have hesitated to think for a moment. Let it have good acoustics and we'll shut our eyes.
It is not actually quite that simple. The concert hall is made in a well intentioned north European style, with light coloured woods, turquoise and not quite uniformly shaded carpets. Less well intentioned is the overall effect with its evocations of DIY furniture and the Domus warehouse. But the acoustic is truly superb. Superb in a quite different way to the Music Academy: drier, more analytical, more merciless, since you can hear every individual musical section, which made listening to both the entirety and the details of Mozart's small G minor symphony at the same time hugely pleasurable. I noticed the hissing with which this crazy symphony begins, while observing what the double basses were up to in all this madness.
This “test” concert meant that acoustic engineers were present, observing how the sound could be improved. I don't know, it struck me as being quite OK as it is. What should be improved but which of course would require revising the original plans and placing of the walls, is the cramped area in front of the cloakroom: human heads are in danger, and if we turn up the beautiful, wide, prima donna staircase, you have to enter the grand hall through a dark, narrow corridor with a ceiling you can touch with your hand and everyone steps on your feet. Anyone who thought that the new concert hall would bring an end to the Music Academy scrum will be bitterly disappointed. In Hungary, it seems you have to jostle for your music.
But probably that is not the true essence, the music is. At the first concert the National Philharmonic Orchestra played Mozart: the two G minor symphonies and in between, smaller pieces for orchestra paired with violin, human voice, horn and flute. Perhaps the programme was a trifle longer than was pleasant but the hall gave a fine account of itself. Every instrument was heard clearly and purely, perhaps Barnabás Kelemen's violin could have been louder but who cares? Barnabás Kelemen is a true modern soloist: he is balanced, prepared, can do a great deal, but his knowledge does not in the least disturb the spontaneity of his playing and most important of all, the joy. Barnabás Kelemen likes playing the violin and he can communicate this enthusiasm to the audience. For my own part, I like to watch and hear him. Even when he took his turn as first violin, sitting with the orchestra.
Two orchestral members played concerto solos. The E flat major horn rondo was performed by László Gál, with bear like charm but great security, while the C major andante for flute was played by Anita Szabó who seemed almost sick with nerves: by the time she relaxed, the piece had ended. The most interesting soloist was Andrea Rost. You have to wonder deeply why she sang the beautiful aria “Nehmt meinen Dank” so emptily and inexpressively. Because – not that it needs saying – she is a perfectly professional singer, she has a strong voice, she sings securely and ornaments the melody with taste. She has every reason to relax and ask herself the question: why am I singing this? I have no idea what the answer might be.
The aria “Chi'io mi scordi di te”, reinforced with Zoltán Kocsis's piano solo alongside the orchestra, came across as being less important, perhaps because there is greater risk involved, the carpet the singer must walk along cannot be disturbed beneath her, since Kocsis has to observe both orchestra and soloist. The third aria, “Bella mia fiamma” was stronger. Perhaps this grand operatic scene is closer to Andrea Rost's vocal personality, or that the work does the work for her so all she has to do is sing it.
The end of the concert was the great G minor symphony. It was momentous without any sentimental effect, played with colour, life and tremendous power. Indeed as written in the score and as it should sound. This was the very first concert in the National Concert Hall. There is still no graffiti on the backs of the seats, everything has a fresh smell, the walls are new, it hasn't yet been filled with bad music or false notes, and poor musicality. Ladies and gentlemen, please look after it.
(Népszabadság, January 11, 2005)