Arts & Events

Budapest Festival Orchestra Plays Mozart and Mendelssohn

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday January 30, 2015 - 03:32:00 PM

In their second of two concerts at Davies Symphony Hall on Monday evening, January 26, 2015, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, led by Music Director Iván Fischer, presented a program of music by Mozart and Mendelssohn. Leading off the program was Mozart’s overture to The Magic Flute. This familiar work combines seriousness, marked by the three-fold chords that begin the overture and are later repeated, with the giddy high spirits associated in the opera with Papageno. Con-ductor Ivan Fischer led a brisk interpretation of this overture, although to my mind he allowed too long a pause before and between the three-fold chords, especially when they reappear, only in the winds, midway through this overture. Granted, it is traditional to pause here in order to mark the beginning of the ritual ordeals of Tamino and Papageno presided over by Sarastro’s priests. However, in the overture itself these pauses are not usually so long and drawn-out as was here the case. 

After the Magic Flute overture, violinist Pinchas Zukerman came onstage to perform as soloist in Mozart’s fifth and final violin concerto, K. 219, the A-major “Turkish” concerto. Zukerman followed the modern performance tradition of not joining the orchestral opening measures and instead waiting for his solo part to begin playing. Mozart signals this moment by having the orchestra finish a phrase and then simply stop short, at which point the soloist enters playing a rhapsodic phrase above a gently rustling accompaniment. Mozart gives the soloist a melodic theme derived from the rising arpeggios that opened this movement. Violinist Zukerman played this adagio passage with his characteristically warm timbre and consummate musicianship. When he introduced a second theme, this too was a variation of the arpeggios that predominate in this movement. Now Zukerman began in earnest his solo exposition, which ultimately leads to a recapitulation and a cadenza written expressly for Zukerman by a friend.  

The second movement, marked Adagio, is in fact the largest-scaled slow movement of Mozart’s five violin concertos. There is here a mood of quiet intro-spection and a hint of pathos, elegantly suggested in Zukerman’s playing. The third and final movement begins with a light-hearted rondo in the meter of a minuet. After a brief venture into an exotic minor key, the rondo returns, seems to come to an end, but abruptly veers off into Turkish-sounding music that earned this work its nickname as the “Turkish” concerto. This Rondo à la Turk, as it is called, offers a vigorous workout, complete with cellos and basses turning their bows upside down to hit the strings with the wood rather than the horsehair. The cadenza in this movement, unlike those in the first two movements, was written by Fritz Kreisler and is played by many violinists. When the minuet returns, it brings this work to a close with the same rising arpeggios that began the work and saturated it through-out. After Mozart’s 5th Violin Concerto, Pinchas Zukerman returned to play as an encore a Brahms lullaby, in which he invited the audience to sing along. 

After intermission, Conductor Iván Fischer led the Budapest Festival Orch-estra in Felix Mendelssohn’s Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In-spired by a new German translation of Shakespeare’s works, Mendelssohn at age 17 first penned an Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1826. Much later, in 1843, Mendelssohn returned to Shakespeare’s play to compose the multi-movement 

Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Robert Schumann’s appreciative words about the Overture – “The bloom of youth lies over it” – might equally well apply to the entire Incidental Music, for in this work Mendelssohn captured the fairylike magic of Shakespeare’s play. The overture begins with woodwind chords, followed by softly stirring violins evoking the scampering dance of the fairies. Throughout this overture, the Budapest Festival Orchestra string section dis-tinguished itself with vigorous attacks. The brass section also made its mark with triumphal horns as well as the braying sound, played here on tuba, when Bottom is transformed into a donkey.  

Next came the scampering Scherzo movement’s flute solo to evoke Puck’s encounter with an elf. Conductor Iván Fischer then interpolated a movement not listed in the printed program – the Dance of the Elves. This was followed by the Song for Spotted Snakes, for soloists and chorus. The soprano here was Anna Lucia Richter from Cologne; the mezzo was Barbara Kozelj from Slovenia. Both sang beautifully. After the brief Intermezzo came the lovely Nocturne with its delightful horn solo. The famous Wedding March followed; and here Conductor Fischer astutely placed the two cymbals players at opposite sides of the orchestra, giving an antiphonal quality to this renowned work. Between the Wedding March and the Finale, Fischer interpolated the Funeral March, with its poignant clarinet solo marking the funeral for Pyramus. The Finale itself was beautifully sung by soprano Anna Lucia Richter and the Pro Musica Girls Choir, whose director is Dénes Szabó. All told, I came away from this delightful concert with a profound regard for the Budapest Festival Orchestra and its founding Music Director, Iván Fischer.