Concert “The Taste of the Spring is Always New”:
Romanian Folk / Enescu / Dragony / Schumann

Festival Academy Budapest 2018, Day 3

Logo, Festival Academy Budapest

Budapest — 2018-07-25

4-star rating

2018-08-06 — Original posting

Table of Contents


A year ago, I had the opportunity to attend parts of the Festival Academy Budapest, and I still have the memories of several interesting concerts (see my reports from the 2017 Festival, for the dates 2017-06-10, 2017-06-11, 2017-06-12, and 2017-06-13).

This year, 2018, featured the third instance of the chamber music festival. It is far more than just another music festival with concerts & some social events. Rather, it is a true academy with lectures, round table discussions, and master classes. It includes chamber music recitals with students and teachers, as well as „Open Master Classes“, i.e., the possibility to attend live Master Class sessions. The focus is on chamber music. The students are mostly string players, the teachers include string and wind instrument artists, as well as pianists. This widens the scope of the chamber music that the students can experience, including performances in larger formations, such as sextet or octet.

The Festival is organized within the Ferenc (Franz) Liszt Academy (Zeneakadémia) and receives support by the Hungarian Ministry of Human Resources.

On top of all this, the Festival Academy now for the second time incorporated the Ilona Fehér Violin Competition, open for young violinists aged 8 up to 18. As already last year, the competition jury was headed by the violin virtuoso Shlomo Mintz (Israel / USA, *1957).

Festival Presence and Coverage

I was ever so happy to be invited to this year’s Festival Academy Budapest yet again: my special thanks for this go to the organizers of the festival, in particular Katalin Kokas and her husband, Barnabás Kelemen.

Due to date collisions (concerts with review commitments before and after), as already last year, my visit to this year’s festival was selective and partial, limited to 3+ days, i.e., events on days 3, 4, 5, and some on day 6 of the Festival which runs between Monday, 2018-07-23, and Sunday, 2018-07-29. This report focuses on the concert on the evening of 2018-07-25 at Solti Hall in the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music.

Unlike last year, there were no concerts in the Grand Hall (which is closed due to the ongoing restoration of the grand organ), nor any at the Pesti Vigadò or at the Old Music Academy. Instead, all concerts, official recitals (Teacher and Student), as well as some lectures in the Festival now happened in the Solti Hall, a very nice Art Nouveau style chamber music hall. It’s the secondary concert hall in the same building as the Zeneakadémia‘s Great Hall. Also the master classes and student sessions were in that building, but in smaller rooms, up to the cupola room in the top floor.

Festival Academy Budapest, 2018-07-25: András Bánó, presenter
András Bánó, presenter

The Festival Academy’s Evening Concerts

The 2017 Festival Academy commemorated the 50th anniversary of the death of Zoltán Kodály (1882 – 1967). This time, all evening concerts had individual themes / mottos:

“Master and Students” Concerts

Besides the above concerts on 2018-07-25, 2018-07-26, and 2018-07-27, I attended three “Master and Students” Concerts (shown with the date, the composers, and the relevant master artists):

About this Concert

So, this first concert that I attended in 2018 had the title “The Taste of the Spring is Always New”. As in all other concerts, the excellent moderator András Bánó introduced each piece and the artists, both in Hungarian, as well as in English:

As the artists changed with every piece (only rarely did an artist appear twice in the same concert), I’ll mention them in connection with the music that they played, through all Festival-related posts. Unlike in my usual concert reviews, I will not write extensive introductions on individual artists. Many of them have already appeared in last year’s Festival Academy Budapest. I’m providing links to the artist’s Web site, or to their page on Wikipedia (or even both).

Along the same lines: with the three concerts and three “Master and Student” recitals all happening within 4 days, the number of compositions is fairly large. So, for the most part, I’ll refrain from adding extensive descriptions of the compositions.

Romanian Folk Music

The original announcement had the program start with Tímea Dragony’s Lángrózsa Song Cycle, followed a segment with Romanian Folk Music. After the intermission, Schumann’s piano quintet would follow Enescu’s violin sonata No.3. However, upon re-considering the order of the pieces, the organizers decided to shift Dragony’s song cycle into the second half, and to start program with the Romanian Folk music: Enescu was a real expert in the folk music of his country, similar to what Béla Bartók (1881 – 1945) and Zoltán Kodály (1882 – 1967) were for the Hungarian folk music.

Although he did not directly quote Romanian folk music in his violin sonata, that composition is so full of folk music topoi (rhythmic and melodic pattern, etc.) that it really made sense to start with “Folk music proper”, followed immediately by Enescu’s sonata. This made the ties between the sonata and the folk music even more obvious.

Festival Academy Budapest, 2018-07-25: Romanian Folk Music
Romanian Folk Music: Ági Szalóki (voice), Kálmán Balogh (cimbalom)

The Artists

The folk music was performed by three artists:

  • Ági Szalóki, voice
  • Kálmán Balogh, cimbalom
  • an accordion player whose name was not mentioned in the printed program

As the presenter explained, the musicians tried their best to match folk music to Enescu’s sonata. However, this turned out an impossible task: Enescu wrote in the style of Romanian folk music, but did not quote any such music directly. Still, even without direct cross-links to Enescu’s composition, this introduction established the proper, “Romanian” atmosphere. It set the stage for the upcoming violin sonata:

The Performance

The performance started with a sort of Passacaglia, where the bass marked a constant rhythm in three (2 + 1) beats, the voice adding an Asian-sounding melody line, rich in artful ornaments / fioriture, long notes enriched with a vivid vibrato. When intermittently the accordion took over the melody part, the ornaments became even richer.

The cimbalom then moved into a progressively enthralling, fast segment, now in even measures, with amazing, virtuosic passages. The music then accelerated, changed to a rhythm in 6 times (3 + 3, 6/8?), continuing the acceleration, the virtuosity. Yet another alteration to a whirling, even rhythm (2 beats), full of syncopes, now again with voice. Absolutely fascinating, truly enthralling: an excellent start for the program!

Rating: ★★★★½

Enescu: Violin Sonata No.3 in A minor, op.25

The Romanian composer, conductor, violinist, and pianist Georges Enescu (1881 – 1955) explicitly titled his composition Violin Sonata No.3 in A minor, op.25, “dans le caractère populaire roumain, i.e., sonata “in the popular Romanian character”. The Sonata was completed 1926 and features three movements:

  1. Moderato malinconico
  2. Andante sostenuto e misterioso
  3. Allegro con brio, ma non troppo mosso

As the presenter explained, there are recordings with the composer playing the violin in this sonata. However, he has also been recorded playing the piano part in this sonata.

The Artists

The Performance

I. Moderato malinconico

I was pleased to note that in order to allow for proper balance, József Balog played with the lid on the Steinway D_274 half-closed. That proved to be particularly valuable already around [2] on the score, where Katalin Kokas played the Eastern figures / ornamentation so softly and subtly as to merely hinting that she was still playing! Throughout the movement, she seemed the one who mostly defined / controlled the agogics, the rich rubato.

The movement is highly interesting, in that for the most part, it seems to lack a basic pulsation going though: Enescu’s writing seems rhythmically loose, if not free, only “locally / momentarily defined”. It’s a sequence, a true, rich kaleidoscope of short, “Slavonic” topoi, alternating between pensive moments, hesitant, then again flourishing melodious ornaments. Katalin Kokas resorted to “Eastern articulation”, such as deliberate, extended slurring. Yet, she did not exaggerate her part such as to avoid making a caricature of it. Her intonation was excellent, the slurry transitions clearly intended. Very nice: how the ending faded away in vagueness. It felt as if the music continued playing silently, forever. Impressionism in folk music?

II. Andante sostenuto e misterioso

Rhythmically, the second movement seems more defined, primariuly through ostinato figures and tremoli in the piano score. Apart from that, it was rhythmically not overly structured. In the first part, the violin is playing chains of flageolets, extremely demanding in the intonation. Katalin Kokas managed the intonation well, while keeping the “Eastern tone” with the occasional slurs, and the like. Nevertheless, one could sense the challenges in intonation: perfection is probably hard, if not impossible to achieve here. The music went through a very expressive, excited climax, with plenty of tricky double-stop playing on the violin.

After this, the composition returns to a rhythmically “suspended” state again. It retained the tension, the suspense: excellent and dramatic, even up into the very end, where the music seems to die off: a gripping, thrilling piece!

III. Allegro con brio, ma non troppo mosso

In its rhythmic agility, the rapid alterations, the syncopes, the percussive playing on the piano, this movement reminded me the most of Béla Bartók’s music. The vivid, virtuosic violin part is rhythmically as challenging as the piano part. It is full of double-stop passages, with extensive rubato, frequent stretti. I can see why the folk musicians could not find a good match: unlike “real folk” music, Enescu does not write extensive, longer melodies. He rather works with short melody fragments, snippets that he mixes and matches, chaining them together in truly kaleidoscopic manner. The result is both very entertaining, virtuosic, and thrilling. In the last pages, the music turns extremely dramatic, builds up to an ending like a real fff hurricane: fascinating!

Both instrumental parts are very demanding, the tempo was fast even in very challenging segments on the piano. The strong applause was more than an indication for Katalin Kokas’ popularity in the festival, in Budapest, in the country. However, it was just as much a well-deserved recognition for an excellent, enthralling performance by both the violinist, as well as József Balog at the piano!

Rating: ★★★★

Dragony: Lángrózsa Song Cycle

A first in this third edition of the Festival Academy Budapest was, that the organizers commissioned 10 songs from three composers. All songs were (to be) based upon poems by Melinda Fellegi, and all these songs premiered in concerts at this Festival Academy:

  • 2018-07-24: Song Cycle “Melindalok” by Zoltán Kovács:
    • Bleeding out
    • Metamorphosis
    • Veil
    • Face to Face
  • 2018-07-25:Lángrózsa Song Cycle”, by Tímea Dragony (*1976 in Nyíregyháza):
    • Message
    • Spell
    • Origin
  • 2018-07-28: “Fellegi Songs” by Péter Zombola:
    • Bleeding out
    • Tango
    • On the Bridge

The Artists

So, this concert featured the Lángrózsa Song Cycle by Tímea Dragony, based upon three poems (“Message”, “Spell”, and “Origin”) by Melinda Fellegi (who was of course present in the audience). The concert booklet included translations of the Hungarian poems. I won’t reproduce these here. Doing so might in parts transport the poetic content, but it would entirely miss out on the sound of the Hungarian language. However, it is worth noting that the poems were recited by the actor Piroska Molnár, prior to the performance. Also, the composer, Tímea Dragony was sitting at the piano in this performance. Could this have been any more authentic? The performers / artists were

Note that for this composition, Katalin Kokas switched from the violin to the viola. She masters both instruments equally well!

The Performance

As stated, with the composer at the piano and the poet in the audience, authenticity was guaranteed here. As I heard the music for the first time, I can’t rate the performance. Rather, I’ll just refer to descriptive information from my concert notes.

I. Üzenet (“Message”)

The beginning gave the impression of a rather austere, polyphonic music. Polytonal is probably a good description, as several streams of different tonality appeared to coexist in an intertwined flow, with the piano “winning” in the end, the music gaining warmth. Out of this the voice gradually emerges, gaining presence, dramatic, expressive a voice with good timbre and volume, well-projecting. It was an impressive start, and a stark contrast to the serene tone of the preceding, recited version. The second poem / song followed attacca:

II. Bübáj (“Spell”)

A lyrical segment follows, melancholic, pensive (reminding of early Schönberg in the string quartet?). I liked the color of the voice, and how the string quartet receded into the fines ppppp and below. The volume picks up again gradually, accompanying the soprano’s very nice cantilenas. The voice moves initiates a dramatic build-up, the music appears tonal, though it consequently refuses to resolve into a V-I cadenza. Late expressionism with diffuse, vague sound spheres in the instrumental accompaniment?

III. Eredet (“Origin”)

Trembling, trills and tremoli in the string quartet. I noted the excellent internal balance among the four musicians. The voice enters rather dramatically, forming a canon-like segment with the piano. The expression grows, the music turns more and more dramatic, with an impressive climax around the verse “I’ll be a bird one day”. It felt as if the vocal part was written onto / into Lilla Horti’s voice!

I found all songs to be really, very impressive, moving (even without reading all the translation that was shown on a display above the stage), and very atmospheric. Congrats to the composer, and equally congrats to the artists!

Rating: ★★★★½

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

The final piece in this concert was the Piano Quintet in E♭ major, op.44 by Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856), a composition from 1842. I have once posted a very short comparison of two recordings of this quintet. Further, Schumann’s op.44 was performed in concerts that I reviewed earlier this year. One was in Zurich, on 2018-04-13, and s second one a few days later, in Bern, on 2018-04-23. Furthermore, in last year’s Festival Academy, on 2017-06-13, the first movement was played in the “Young Talents’ Recital #3” in the Pesti Vigadó. As mentioned, I’ll just list the movements here:

  1. Allegro brillante
  2. In modo d’una marcia. Un poco largamente — Agitato
  3. Scherzo: Molto vivace
  4. Allegro ma non troppo

It speaks for the popularity of this composition that it was again featuring in the “Master and Students” Recital on the last day of my stay, on 2018-07-28. See my separate posting on this event. But first, the “Masters” were setting the benchmark here. They did so not in a long-standing ensemble, but featuring excellent musicians throughout, nevertheless.

The Artists

The Performance

First: as the pictures above indicate, Alexander Ullmann was playing the lid of the Steinway D-274 concert grand fully open. Nevertheless, I found the balance to be very good. My conclusion: if the pianist is able to handle the volume / the balance diligently, it may not be necessary to (half-)close the lid. I consider this rather an exception. It’s rare that an open piano lid does not cause balance issues in chamber music. Note: my seat was in the rear center of the balcony, so my view of the acoustic balance was not affected by short distance distortions.

I. Allegro brillante

Not just the balance was very good: the entire performance was excellent. I noted the outstanding use of agogics, such as little ritenuti prior to peak notes, or preceding a local climax in a phrase. Very expressive playing, indeed! But the ritenuti did not prevent the movement from being full of momentum, full of life and emotion! Needless to say that the exposition was repeated. — ★★★★

II. In modo d’una marcia. Un poco largamente — Agitato

Things I noted: the very diligent phrasing, articulation and dynamics on the piano. And: the dark, viola-like sonority of Natalia Lomeiko’s violin when she presents the theme up to the first double bar. Also: the excellent tempo control (never pushed, but also never losing the tension), the careful dynamics. The Agitato part is entirely different in its atmosphere. It is urging, expressive, grumbling, trembling from emotions. My only quibble: at the a tempo (modulation to F major), the theme (marked espressivo) was maybe a bit too expressive in the first violin (too much vibrato, too much & too frequent use of portamento). — ★★★½

III. Scherzo: Molto vivace

Fast, agile, virtuosic, exuberant, vibrant, joyful, with the main / decisive impulses coming from the piano part. Maybe not always 100% perfect in the coordination, but in this concert performance, the “inner life”, the emotions were far more important than ultimate technical perfection. This also applied to the second Trio, where coordinating the fast semiquaver voices proved a slight challenge. In the more restrained first Trio, the vibrato, the portamenti were again a bit strong. — ★★★★

IV. Allegro ma non troppo

Maybe slight dominance of the piano (Schumann’s personal voice, after all!), and again it seemed to be Alexander Ullman who gave the decisive impulses from the piano. As a team, the five musicians were perhaps not always operating quite “out of one single mind”. However, after all, this was an ad hoc formation (from excellent musicians, though). More importantly, the concept of the interpretation was excellent, conclusive, and also the occasional excess in vibrato did not affect the very good overall impression. — ★★★½

Rating: ★★★½


This was an excellent opening for my 3.5 days in Budapest. Congrats to all musicians! I could not name a single one that wasn’t playing at the generally outstanding musical and technical level in this concert!

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