Two concerts that couldn't have been much different in scope and style were the recital of German Lieder by soprano Barbara Bonney with accompanist Malcolm Martineau on November 21, and the orchestral concert by the Hungarian National Philharmonic, led by Zoltán Kocsis and featuring piano soloist Alexander Toradze on November 24.
The former was intimate and quietly personal, enhanced by the soft lighting at the Academy of Music. The latter was robust, blustery, very public, hugely powerful, and a mad dash to the finish line of each work.
And yet, there was a strong similarity in that both were absolutely extraordinary and truly memorable experiences. The overwhelming impression made by these two concerts I think – and hope – I will never forget.
The National Philharmonic's concert was pure excitement from the get-go. Maestro Kocsis let 'er rip in the opening bars of Haydn's brilliant Symphony No. 82 in C major, “the Bear,” and kept whipping his players into a frenzied but controlled stampede, giving them no quarter until the end of the concert.
In the process he also led them through a punishing performance of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major and a luminous reading of Beethoven's “Eroica” Symphony.
The soloist in the Prokofiev, Alexander Toradze from Georgia, was the right man for the job. His aggressive, percussive, over the top style at lightning speed in the first movement seemed to match what one can read about Prokofiev's own legendary, notorious “steel hands.” His sizable bulk positively ricocheted off the piano bench as he mercilessly attacked the big chords. And though the orchestra could play very loud, he could drown them out. You should have seen the looks of enthusiastic astonishment on the faces of the musicians themselves. And when the first movement ended at something like warp factor six, a buzz of disbelief, shock and exhilaration collectively rushed out of all in the audience.
In the very quiet ending of the slow movement, however, Toradze produced a pianissimo so gossamer-like that no moonlit night could ever compete with it for sheer mystery and gorgeousness. The whole witty concerto was a great success, and Toradze clearly gave a lot of credit for the victory, and rightly so, to Kocsis and the National Philharmonic.
I thought I was familiar with the “Eroica.” I've studied it, played it, taught it, known it for some thirty years. But Kocsis's interpretation – again, with very fast tempos that made the musicians work hard for their pay – was so deeply musical and defamiliarizing that it was like hearing it for the first time. New music. Stripped clean of centuries of accretions, Kocsis's 3rd Symphony was so fresh and light that it simply danced. The revolution had been restored to this revolutionary monument.
I have to say that Zoltán Kocsis has come a very long way as a conductor since he first took the reins of the Hungarian National Philharmonic in 1997, and he and his orchestra are today a force to be reckoned with.
(The Budapest Sun)