Only with no trace of a gimmick does it work brilliantly for Iván Fischer and his orchestra in Edinburgh

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2023 [4] – Weber, Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn: Daniel Lozakovich (violin), Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 10.8.2023. (SRT)

Iván Fischer conducts the Budapest Festival Orchestra at a previous concert

Weber – Der Freischütz Overture
Fanny Mendelssohn – ‘Schnell fliehen die Schatten der Nacht’ from Gartenlieder
Felix Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto; Symphony No.3 ‘Scottish’

The Budapest Festival Orchestra’s residency at the Edinburgh International Festival has been nothing if not eventful. The first night saw the audience lounging on beanbags spread among the orchestra while they played Dvořák’s Symphony No.8, while the second saw a showcase of homegrown Hungarian masterworks alongside Sir András Schiff on the piano. On paper this final concert, a quartet of nineteenth-century European masterworks, looks like the most conventional of them all.

Typically, conductor Iván Fischer had a few things up his sleeve to lift it above the level of conventional, but some of them worked better than others. The final pages of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony soured what had been, up to then, a first rate performance. The first two movements were full of swirling energy and bubbling colour, while the Adagio had sombre grandeur and the finale had the crack of outdoor energy to it. As the final, triumphal coda began, however, Fischer got each section to stand up in turn, as though to underline the fact that things were coming to a head. Nothing wrong with that per se, but it didn’t make the darndest bit of difference to their playing, and half of the violas seemed to forget that it was their turn. Even the cellos and timpanist were standing by the end in what was, bluntly, little more than a gimmick.

Nor did I warm to the Fanny Mendelssohn song, which the orchestral musicians sang unaccompanied. It is only two verses so didn’t hold things up for too long, but these musicians are far better players than singers, so why waste their time on this when there is plenty of instrumental music by Fanny that they could have played instead? Is it to underline the point that they sing as well as play, in which case: so what?!

And, at the risk of sounding like a total grump, their choice of soloist for Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto was not a success. The terrifyingly young-looking Daniel Lozakovich has abundant skill to play Mendelssohn’s concerto, but his style lags way behind his technique. His approach was timid and withdrawn throughout so that, even in the first movement, the violin was never at the centre of the picture the way it needs to be. During the slow movement his sound all but disappeared into the orchestra’s, and throughout the finale his playing was like somebody driving with the handbrake on. There are buckets of potential there, but he needs to discover more of his own voice rather than simply to play through the notes.

It was left to the orchestra to steal the honours, with muscular playing in the outer movements, and even in the minor key section of the slow movement. They sounded even finer in Weber’s Der Freischütz Overture, with a terrific shudder on the strings for the minor key sections and a very quiet shading down before the coda, which made the final C major explosion sound so much more exciting. Fischer began the piece with the four horns placed in antiphonal pairs in the organ gallery, giving an extra edge of space and breath to their opening hunting call. That worked brilliantly, a good idea that carried no trace of a gimmick.

Simon Thompson

The Edinburgh International Festival runs at venues across the city until Sunday 27th August click here for details.

2 thoughts on “Only with no trace of a gimmick does it work brilliantly for Iván Fischer and his orchestra in Edinburgh”

  1. Disagree with much of this. For me, the soloist in the Mendelssohn concerto was refreshingly understated. I could cite many performances where the playing was overblown. I loved his pp moments all of which were quite audible, and made their point without unnecessary ostentation. I found the dynamic range very satisfactory.
    The Fanny Mendelssohn choral piece was simply lovely, making a nice moment of contrast to the orchestral evening. We could do with hearing a lot more of this composer. [edited]


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