I heard two back-to-back concerts by the Budapest Festival Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, on 4/5/19 and 4/6/19, both in all-Bartók programs conducted by Iván Fischer.
They opened with his suite from a ballet, *The Miraculous Mandarin.* This piece is totally out there, it sounds like *The Rite of Spring* on acid. My favorite moment had the flutes playing a six-note figure, with the first note accented: BAH bah bah bah bah bah, BAH bah bah bah bah bah and they both lurched forward with the BAH each time. That was cute.
Next they did six selections from his *Twenty-Seven Two- and Three-Part Choruses,* a cappella pieces sung by the Cantemus Choir, a Hungarian high school girl choir. Those girls were the best thing on the program, they knocked me out. They had a cool, clean, menthol kind of sound. The music was somewhat challenging, and their dissonances were perfectly in tune.
The next piece was seven selections from *Twenty-Seven Two- and Three-Part Choruses with Orchestra Accompaniment.* These were written for youth choir and chamber orchestra and Fischer amusingly said before the performance, “We have school choir. We pretend to be school orchestra.” The arrangements were inventive and a little peculiar. In a satisfying way.
Of course I was sitting in the balcony (to use a phrase that my late mother-in-law used to describe my late father-in-law, I’m “tighter than a crab’s ass”) and I had the pleasure of seeing the high school girls in the audience for the second half, in their darling folk costumes. The second half had one piece on it, the *Concerto For Orchestra.* I don’t think I’d heard it before. It had an ominous opening and unfurled into something brash and vibrant. It was very cinematic, like a Hungarian *Star Wars.* I mean that n a good way.
The first half was fascinating - - the orchestra played Bartók’s *Romanian Folk Dances* and *Hungarian Peasant Songs,* and they were each preceded by a trio from the orchestra playing more or less authentic versions of the dances and songs. István Kádár played violin, András Szabó played viola, and and Zsolt Fejérvári on bass. The trio was extraordinary, the trio was infinitely more interesting than the orchestra arrangements. The orchestra arrangements had a severe case of what I call WQXRitis, they sound like the kind of thing that would be best heard on a middle-of-the-road classical music radio station.
Best of all, in the Hungarian peasant songs, the trio was joined by a Hungarian folk singer, Márta Sebestyén. She had me in tears, a beautiful, tiny older woman. She seemed like the Celia Cruz of Hungary wearing a gorgeous black and red folk costume with red shoes. The orchestra players sang along in a few key moments, and she had a sort of scat solo at one point, which she sang while wiggling her fingers. The *Hungarian Peasant Songs* arrangements were more spicy, but they still had WQXRitis.
Here's a recording of Sebestyén:
The folk singer and the trio did an encore and I was shocked (shocked, I tell you) to see a French horn player on the side distractedly watching them and biting his nails. Really and truly, sitting on the Carnegie Hall stage, biting his nails.
The second half was a concert performance of Bartók’s only opera, *Bluebeard’s Castle.* The opera is a fascinating mixture of fairy tale and horror movie, right up my alley. The singers were mezzo soprano Ildikó Komlósi and bass Krisztián Cser. I heard this opera at the Met a few years ago (in a profoundly ugly and dull production) but this performance was off the hook genius. I could never hear a more perfect performance of this opera. The singing was extraordinary and the playing of the orchestra was unlike anything I’d heard before. There are lots of shocking, unsettling, disturbing effects in the orchestra, and they really delivered.