When Iván Fischer founded the Budapest Festival Orchestra more than 30 years ago he made a personal dream become true. Core of the philosophy of the orchestra is the total absence of daily routine. It is about taking the risk, the initiative and freedom to do things differently. Every concert is therefore a joyful discovery of uncharted territory, a journey to new horizons in music. It feels unexpected and surprising as if it was played for the very first time. The Festival Orchestra is driven by an openness towards the new and the unknown, by curiosity and attention to details. It is the innovative approach to music, the musician’s dedication and their permanent strive for excellence that made Budapest Festival Orchestra the youngest of the top 10 ranked ensembles in the world.
A new recording of a work as often recorded as the Concerto for Orchestra should offer something unusual, as well, and this disc does. Kossuth, a 20-minute symphonic poem, was the 22-year-old composer's first major orchestral composition. The conception owes much to Richard Strauss and the style to Liszt, but there are plenty of hints of material that show up in his mature works. The Village Scenes is a particularly exciting choral-orchestral expansion of a work originally for voices and piano, and the Concerto of course, is enormously popular.
Neither too nationalist nor too internationalist, this 1995 recording of Béla Bartók's two violin concertos featuring Thomas Zehetmair with Ivan Fischer leading the Budapest Festival Orchestra is just right. Austrian-born Zehetmair has a fabulous technique, a warm but focused tone, and lively sense of rhythm, all of which make him an ideal Bartók player. His interpretations are less about showing off then about digging in, and his performances are more about the music than they are about the musician. Hungarian conductor Fischer and his Hungarian orchestra are not only up for the music in a technical sense, they are also down with the music in an emotional sense, and their accompaniments ground Zehetmair's coolly flamboyant performances. Captured in white-hot sound that is almost too vivid for its own good, these performances deserve to stand among the finest ever recorded.
A countryman of Bela Bartók and a sometime teacher to both György Ligeti and György Kurtág, Sándor Veress emigrated to Switzerland from what was then part of Hungary in 1949. Settling in Bern, he collected various prizes and teaching posts while working in relative obscurity on who knows how many pieces–most of which have been unavailable. This collection is made up of a pithy trio of compositions dated 1938 (Six Csárdás), 1951 (Hommage à Paul Klee), and 1952 (Concerto for Piano, Strings, and Percussion), and they show what a deftly melodic force Veress was. He's thrilled by blustery string wafts, especially in the concerto, where the percussion adds drama and immediacy. But he also favors sweetly chipper string formations, which surprise the ear during the homage to Klee, especially given the dissonances fostered early on by the twin pianos. The closing piano miniatures of Six Csárdás are counterpoint-rich gems, played with sharp precision by András Schiff.
So what if Liszt spent most of his life in France and Germany and never learned to speak Hungarian? The music of the Magyars' fiery favorite son played by a hot-blooded local boy is an irresistible combination. Even the delightful Dohnanyi filler (variations on ''Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star'') doesn't really douse the flames. Put it in the CD player and let 'er rip! Just be sure to remove all flammable vestments first. (Entertainment Weekly)