United Kingdom Prom 54: Mozart. Ákos Ács (basset clarinet); Zsolt Fejérvári (double bass); Lucy Crowe (soprano); Barbara Kozelj (mezzo-soprano); Jeremy Oven (tenor); Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass); Collegium Vocale Gent; Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer (conductor), Royal Albert Hall, London. 26.8.2016. (LB)
Mozart – Aria with double bass obbligato, ‘Per questa bella mano’ K.612 (1791)
Mozart – Clarinet Concerto in A major, K.622 (1789-1791)
Mozart – Requiem in D minor, K626 (1791) compl. Franz Xaver Süßmayer (1766-1803)
At a time when style overwhelmingly predominates over substance, and meritocracy is engaged in a deadly battle with marketing, it was refreshing to be able to hear an ensemble like the Budapest Festival Orchestra, whose mission under their founder and music director extends to no more than the principled realisation of the music before them. Here is an orchestra with a truly sophisticated command of the vital spiritual, intellectual and technical facility essential for bringing music properly to life.
The Budapest Festival Orchestra’s all-Mozart programme is one that they have recently performed in other distinguished venues around Europe, and that their BBC Proms performance should prove to be so meticulously prepared, was not entirely surprising.
Unusually, the first piece on the programme was a concert aria, Per Questa Bell Mano with bass voice and obbligato double bass. In what could almost certainly be construed as the ‘death of expertise’, or the absence of genuine depth of knowledge, all publicity in the months preceding this performance, both online and in print, failed to mention the name of the excellent double bass soloist, and principal double bassist of the orchestra, Zsolt Fejérvári, who will invariably have invested abundant time preparing this fiendishly difficult, but very satisfying solo double bass part. He was mercifully finally mentioned in the concert programme this evening, but such a monstrous faux pas did not go unnoticed in the music world at large.
Hanno Müller-Brachmann standing in for the indisposed Neal Davis, and with the flamboyant and self-assured Fejérvári by his side, gave a plausible if lack-lustre account of Mozart’s tender love song.
Mozart’s overwhelmingly popular clarinet concerto came next, and in an impeccable and refreshingly unpretentious performance, clarinettist Ákos Ács and the orchestra articulated a thought-provoking vision of this oft-molested masterpiece. His playing on the basset clarinet was fluent, suave and beguiling and the orchestra’s contribution no less enchanting.
Balance was absolutely superb throughout, with immaculate attention to detail; I was particularly struck by the elegance of the lively and robust tuttis in the outer movements, and the supreme tenderness of the central Adagio. It is not often that one’s attention is so compellingly drawn to the orchestral accompaniment in a concerto, but the diligence with which Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra fulfilled their obligation to their colleague, the music, and to each other, underscored the fundamental elements in their success on the concert platform.
The audience, probably mindful of the potential for ruffling feathers, applauded self-consciously between movements, to acknowledge the uncommon communicative power of these Hungarians’ principled music making. Within milliseconds of the conclusion of the final Rondo any qualms evaporated instantly, and the now unrestrained applause earned an encore of Béla Kovács’ ‘Shalom Aleichem, Rov Feidman’, in which Ákos Ács was skilfully and idiomatically accompanied by his fellow principals.
Mozart’s Requiem, in the version completed by Süßmayer, was the final piece on the programme, and although the Requiem does of course contain some magnificent music, it once again led me to wonder why the programming of concert performances of these liturgical works persists in an increasingly secular world. Is it the religious or the musical that continues to mesmerise, or is it both?
This evening’s performance proved to be anything but perfunctory, with the members of Collegium Vocale Gent integrated into the body of the orchestra, and the four vocal soloists rising out of this unified body of choral and instrumental musicians, on a raised platform. Sight lines must have been particularly challenging, but the musical outcome fully vindicated Iván Fischer’s unorthodox arrangement of the musical forces before him. Every single musician’s contribution proved critical, and Fischer expected, and received, total commitment from everyone.
Ensemble, especially between the furthest reaches of the ensemble, proved to be astonishingly good, with crisp counterpoint, impeccable balance, and a resolute musical purpose contributing to an uncommonly satisfactory experience for me.