Festival Academy Budapest 2017, Day 3
Handel — Sort of…

Budapest, Old Franz Liszt Music Academy / Széchenyi Spa


2017-06-25 — Original posting

Logo, Festival Academy Budapest

Table of Contents


This is not the usual type of concert report / review post, but rather an unusual note. It’s even not a concert report at all, rather a couple of notes on two students’ recitals, and the “special evening” on the third day in this year’s Festival Academy Budapest, complemented with a few photos. The outline of this post:

Festival Academy Budapest, 2017-06-11 Young Talents Recital (© Rolf Kyburz)
Festival Academy Budapest, 2017-06-11 Young Talents Recital #2 (© Rolf Kyburz)

Old Music Academy

Matinee Concert “Young Talents’ Recital #2”

There were three students’ recitals in this year’s Festival Academy Budapest (“Matinee Concerts”, though mostly held at 15:30). This was the second one of these “Matinees”. The recital featured four compositions, some of which were only played in excerpts (individual movements). The artists were mostly students from the Festival Academy. In each of the performances, at least one teacher was playing with the students. Unfortunately, the names of the students were only communicated verbally (and in Hungarian pronunciation), so in this report, they remain anonymous. This matinee concert was held in the recital hall (see the picture above) of the Old Music Academy (Vörösmarty utca 35), a building that also holds an interesting Franz Liszt Museum.

Popper: Requiem for Three Cellos and Piano, op.66

David Popper (1843 – 1913) wrote his Requiem, op.66, for 3 cellos and piano, or for 3 cellos and orchestra. Here, we heard a transcription for 6 cellos, without piano. This is a composition in a single movement. The title reads “Requiem — Adagio“. However, the actual annotation is Andante sostenuto. It’s a very solemn, calm piece—very nice, harmonious music. Actually, it’s music that I could listen to over and over again! Already three cellos can create a dense web of voices. Even more so six cellos, when in Popper’s composition the orchestral or piano accompaniment is arranged for three additional cellos. It looks like arranging music for a set of cellos alone has become quite fashionable these days, given that in several, prominent orchestras, the cellists gather to perform as a group of their own!

Here, the transcription of Popper’s Requiem for six cellos was performed by László Fenyő (*1975) and five Festival Academy master class students. The performance was not about virtuosity, but all, entirely about sound and sonority in the gently flowing melodies. The students here proved to be quite autonomous, needing little, if any direct guidance by Fenyö during the performance: they could interact and manage the performance themselves. It was all mastered very well, also the intonation, probably the biggest challenge in this performance. Well done!

Mendelssohn: String Quartet No.4 in E minor, op.44/2

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847) composed his String Quartet No.4 in E minor, op.44/2 in 1837. This is the middle one (though chronologically the first) of the three quartets op.44. Only one more, complete quartet—op.80, F minor—was to follow in 1847, shortly before the composer died. Only the first movement, Allegro assai appassionato, was performed.

In this string quartet, the violist Atar Arad (*1945, see also Wikipedia) was performing with three Festival Academy students. Here, the students were much more exposed than the five cello students in the previous performance. In parts, of course, that’s through the smaller ensemble and through the fact that in a string quartet, the voices by definition are much more autonomous. This is one of the most challenging genres in chamber music, after all. In addition, Atar Arad—sitting on the right-most chair—was playing the least prominent voice. He mostly was (generously) observing and supporting, rather than controlling the performance. Needless to say: in passages where the viola takes a solo role, that solo was impeccable, with notable, obvious mastership. And his Amati viola made these parts stand out even more.

Students’ Performance

In this performance, Mendelssohnian virtuosity wasn’t so much of an issue. However, the key challenge is that the voices were so exposed—really cruelly in the case of the first violin! The slightest problem in articulation and intonation was very audible. And the relatively analytic acoustics didn’t help coverinG minor errors. And Mendelssohn’s score is relentlessly unforgiving and challenging! I had the impression that sometimes, the volume was pushed a bit, possible in an attempt to overcome challenges.

Overall, the Festival Academy students managed fairly well, but at the same time it was obvious that this was not a “grown”, established & homogeneous ensemble. I liked the tempo—the character of the music was well-met. The main burden was carried by the first violin: the second violin was often rather hidden, and the cello part is definitely easier than the first violin part.

Schumann: Sonata No.1 in A minor for Violin and Piano, op.105

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) wrote two violin sonatas, the first of these in 1851. Apparently, he wasn’t quite satisfied with it. So, he followed up with another one, the Sonata No.2 in D minor, op.121, two months after the first one.

In this recital, only the first movement of op.105, Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck (“with passionate expression”) was performed by a student, accompanied by José Gallardo (*1970) at the piano (Steinway B-211).

The first movement is very agitated, emotional music—never boring, for sure! The violinist played with very nice, full and warm tone. A tone, however, which did not mix very well with that of the Steinway. Quite distinctly, José Gallardo took the more active role here, pushed the performance more than the violinist. This may in parts be founded in the score. But it also showed who was the student, and who the established artist. Still, remembering his active playing in the Schubert Fantasy the night before: maybe, José Gallardo was a nuance too active here?

Brahms: Piano Quartet No.2 in A major, op.26

The biggest work in this concert was the Piano Quartet No.2 in A major, op.26, by Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897). Brahms composed this 1861, and he premiered it in 1863, together with members of the Hellmesberger Quartet. This was by far the largest composition in the program, and with the exception of the first one, all four movements were played:

  1. Allegro non troppo
  2. Poco Adagio
  3. Scherzo: Poco Allegro — Trio
  4. Finale: Allegro

Throughout this work, Vilde Frang (*1986) was playing the violin part, putting the Festival Academy student string players (viola, cello) in a somewhat challenging position, as it is hard, if not nearly impossible to gather profile with such a master at the first desk, especially, as already from the score, the violin is somewhat dominating over the other two string instruments. On the other hand, the key role in this composition naturally is in the piano part. That was most obvious from the first bars, as in the second movement, the strings play con sordino. While Vilde Frang kept her position throughout this work, while with one exception, the students changed between the movements.

II. Poco Adagio

The use of mutes, and the fact that the Festival Academy string students were “just” viola and cello, hence “naturally hiding behind the violin”, reduced the amount of exposition for these two roles. But irrespective of that, I had the feeling that they were hanging onto Vilde Frang’s part. And from the score, there was the rather dominant piano part. The music is incredibly beautiful, of course, touching, with intense emotions, as typical for Brahms. Certainly, among the students, the pianist had the best opportunity to show some profile—a chance that he seized only partially. For my taste, Vilde Frang’s vibrato was fairly, if not too rich.

III. Scherzo: Poco Allegro — Trio

A new set of students joined Vilde Frang in this movement. For the string students, this was not really gratifying: the cello played very well, and the viola is given a, but the viola was partly at a disadvantage, as Vilde Frang could not possibly just retract from her somewhat dominant role as the first string voice. However, the student at the piano instantly caught my attention, as being technically and musically excellent, very active, full of temperament; in fact, together with Vilde Frang, he took the lead, the control even, where necessary and appropriate. I had no doubt that this was the best of the students so far (people I talked to later confirmed that judgement).

IV. Finale: Allegro

To my delight, the Festival Academy piano student kept his seat also for this movement: technically flawless (even at the chosen, fast tempo), musically excellent, sensible / sensitive, active! But also the string students, in particular the cellist were excellent in emotionality and technical prowess. For the first time in this recital, I saw a real ensemble, and the result was truly enthralling! Only very rarely, there were minor coordination issues, e.g., in agogic ritenuti. I wish I had the names of the students, particularly the pianist* (if I get hold of these, I’ll retrofit them into this text)!

*) the pianist was possibly János Palojtay, but I yet need to confirm this.

Budapest, Széchenyi Spa, Hall
Budapest, Széchenyi Spa, Hall

Széchenyi Spa

“Baroque in the Water”

The third day of the Festival Academy Budapest featured a special evening, held at the famous Széchenyi Thermal Bath, apparently one of the largest thermal spa complexes in Europe, built in 1913, expanded 1927. The Festival Academy started at 22:30, i.e., after dusk and was planned and performed as an outdoor event (the alternative would have been to perform the music in the entrance hall, shown above). Of course, the “music in the water” did not apply to the performers, but as an option to the listeners, and it wasn’t till around 23:00 until the music actually started. The organizers had reserved one of the semi-circular sections of the facility, at the south-western end of the big court.

It had been exceptionally warm that day, and at 22:30 the air temperature was still 27C. Being able to get into the water was nice, of course. Though, at a water temperature of 26C, that did not provide much of a refreshment! Here are some impressions:

The Music Setting

The title “Baroque in the Water” of course did not refer to the grandiose, neo-baroque architecture of the spa, but to the music to be played, but to the music played: Artists and students of the Festival Academy had gathered to form a small baroque orchestra, (mostly) standing around a harpsichord, from which Jonathan Cohen (*1977, see also Wikipedia) did both the continuo playing and the conducting. The dress code for the musicians was of course informal. Some may have taken a bath before or after the performance. The venue featured very modest acoustics. But the musicians had fun, and so did the audience. It all really was mostly about the venue and the opportunity to enjoy baroque sounds while sitting / laying at the pool, or actually standing in it. So, there isn’t much point in critically reviewing the performance.

The program featured the three suites of the Water Music, HWV 348 – 350 by George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759), i.e.,

  1. Suite in F major, HWV 348
    Overture (Largo – Allegro), followed by 10 movements
  2. Suite in D major, HWV 349
    Overture (Allegro), followed by 4 movements
  3. Suite in G major, HWV 350
    5 movements

For all I can tell, the performance was definitely not just mere fun, but all musicians did their best to make this a “real” performance. It’s just that the only “seats” with proper balanced (non-)acoustics were in the water, and from there it was hard to focus on the performance. Plus, not only was the sound not supported by the venue, but there were also children playing, some people talking, the noises from the pool / water, etc. … so, rather than talking bout the performance, let me just add some pictures here:

A Bonus Performance

It must have been close to midnight when the performance of Handel’s Water Music ended. Thereafter, people gathered for some drinks, or to eat one of the many sandwiches with onion rings, or (more popular, apparently) sweets…

And there was a bonus performance by the two violists Gareth Lubbe and Gábor Homoki, forming a—you guess it—trio or at times even quartet: Gareth Lubbe gave another, fabulous demonstration of his overtone singing—and more! As it turned out, he can equally well make his voice sound like a Didgeridoo, and in his jazzy, thrilling improvisation he was also switch between these and his normal voice, at the same time accompanying himself on the viola, all standing, and Gábor Homoki sat on a chair next to him, adding another voice with his viola:

I made an amateurish attempt to record some of the improvisation by Gareth Lubbe and Gábor Homoki, using my iPhone. Sorry for the bad quality, the occasional whispering, the camera noise. This is cut together in order to remove talking etc.; I did this merely to give you a vague impression of what could be heard

Gareth Lubbe & Gábor Homoki, Jazz improvisation

Needless to say that the evening was not only an interesting experience from being able to visit the Széchenyi Bath, but also from all the music, and for the social contacts & interaction. Many thanks to the organizers for the opportunity!

Pesti Vigadó, entry hall (© Rolf Kyburz)
Pesti Vigadó, entry hall (© Rolf Kyburz)

Pesti Vigadó, Sinkovits Hall

Matinee Concert “Young Talents’ Recital #3”

The third “Matinee Concert” in this year’s Festival Academy (actually in the afternoon of Tuesday, 2017-06-13) was held in the Sinkovits Hall in the Pesti Vigadó (I’ll write a little more on this building in my report about the evening concert on that same day, 2017-06-13). I attended only parts of this third students’ recital. I missed out on the first movement from the Sonata in C♯ minor for violin and piano, op.21 (1921) by the Hungarian composer Ernö Dohnány (1877 – 1960). But I did attend the remainder of the program, five movement from three works, with five sets of artists / students:

Mozart: Piano Quartet No.2 in E♭ major, K.493

The three movements of this piano quartet (from 1786) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) were played by two sets of artists / students:

I. Allegro

Here, the violist Atar Arad played with three Festival Academy students, the piano again was a Steinway B-211. Technically, the students’ playing was OK, also the intonation. However, they all didn’t yet act / participate autonomously, or bring in their personality into the interpretation. With the “teacher” playing the viola, this would have been an excellent opportunity to present some profile, especially as Atar Arad kept his role generously inconspicuous. And I expected the piano and the first violin to take and execute lead roles. However, I mostly sensed playing that was a tad defensive, lacked tension, and was almost devoid of agogics.

II. Larghetto — III. Allegretto

For these two movements, the pianist Shai Wosner (*1976) played with another set of students. Wosner appeared to be carefully listening to the string players, trying to leave the lead to the violin, where possible. Still, in my opinion, the music in the Larghetto lacked tension (except of course for the piano part), the playing lacked the necessary concerted effort. The students (strings) exhibited a rather careful tone with good intonation. Sadly, in the short solo in the coda, the violin appeared to suffer from anxiety. Sure, that role is very exposed. However, such situations must be one of the reasons to attend a master class! The viola was rather inconspicuous, often barely audible. Hiding away, maybe?

In the Allegretto, the piano (Shai Wosner, still, with yet another set of students) clearly had the lead role. The students (string players) played with concentration & focus, but they still lacked initiative, played defensively, even though the tempo was on the “careful” side. On the other hand (expectedly!), Shai Wosner’s playing was incredibly differentiated, very virtuosic, with excellent articulation, a real pleasure to hear!

Dvořák: String Quintet No.2 in G major, op.77, B.49

The String Quintet No.2 in G major, op.77 by the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904) reached completion in 1875. It premiered 1876 and is for two violins, viola, cello, and double bass.

This was an excellent opportunity for the students to show some profile, as the teacher here was Knut Erik Sundquist at the double bass. He exhibited a very relaxed, friendly personality, smiled at everybody, trying to give mental support without taking a lead role. But he did form a resting pole in the performance, and his pizzicati gave an excellent rhythmic foundation. The ensemble played the third movement, Poco andante.

Unfortunately, as one could tell from the tone and the nervous vibrato, the first violinist appeared to suffer from stage anxiety. Her role is very exposed from the score, though. The second violinist acted inconspicuously, maybe should have had the courage to expose herself more. This also might have helped the first violinist. Among the students, the cellist convinced me the most, followed by the violinist.

Schumann: Piano Quintet in E♭ major, op.44

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) wrote one piano quintet, his op.44 in E♭ major. Together with a last set of students, José Gallardo played the first movement, Allegro brillante.

As already in the previous students recital, this final movement proved to be the highlight. In my view, it clearly was the best ensemble, initiative, with lots of differentiation, overall. This specifically applies to the first violinist who played very actively. The other strong players are less prominent in the composition. They sometimes tended to play defensively. Particularly the cellist should have dared to show more profile, to assume a more active role. Needless to say that José Gallardo’s playing had a life on its own, and one could tell from his facial mimics that he lived within this music—another, real pleasure to listen to!

Pesti Vigadó (© Rolf Kyburz)
Pesti Vigadó (© Rolf Kyburz)

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