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Much to Enjoy

The Budapest Symphony Orchestra on tour in the UK,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


This should have provided a blazing end to the Assembly Rooms' 2005-6 orchestral season [18 May 2006, Derby, UK]. It had all the right ingredients -- a touring foreign orchestra (always popular with audiences here), a big, romantic concerto with a fiery young soloist, and a glittering orchestral show-piece to end with. As it turned out there was much to enjoy, even though it didn't hit the expected heights.

After the overture to Mozart's Don Giovanni -- a somewhat careful reading which never really caught fire -- Nina Kotova joined the orchestra for Dvorák's Cello Concerto. There were some good things here. The first movement's solo horn theme was beautifully shaped, and the ebb and flow of tension in the slow movement was finely controlled, with Kotova creating a feeling of intense concentration. Elsewhere, things were less happy. Kotova grabbed impetuously at her first entry, her intonation suffering as a result. At several points, her wish to forge ahead, while conductor Támás Vásáry preferred to linger more, led to some frankly scrappy playing. Vásáry had a tendency to slam the brakes on unnecessarily in some of the orchestral tuttis, too, underlining points which didn't need it. In the end the work's stature simply eluded everyone.

Things improved in the second half. There was some lovely playing in Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite no 1 -- the hushed intensity of Åse's Death was almost palpable. Balance was not always ideal in the 1919 suite from The Firebird but Stravinsky's magical sense of orchestral colour was generally well realised, with some excellent solo playing.

I do wish, though, that touring Hungarian orchestras would chose some less predictable encores. You can virtually guarantee that they will play either one of Brahms's Hungarian Dances or the Hungarian March from Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust -- or, as on this occasion, both.

Copyright © 25 May 2006 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK



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