A new year of orchestral music in New York opened splendidly with its first significant concert of the year, the much awaited return—on the afternoon of Sunday, January 14th, to David Geffen Hall—of the incomparable Budapest Festival Orchestra under the brilliant direction of Iván Fischer, presented as part of the Great Performers series of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The house was surprisingly full with few empty seats in the orchestra, despite the bitterly cold weather, attesting perhaps to the reverence with which these musicians are held.
The somewhat heterogeneous program began wonderfully with a sterling account of Johann Sebastian Bach's popular and marvelous Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, played here by a small ensemble on period instruments with the maestro conducting from the keyboard and featuring Gabriella Pivon on the transverse flute—it would nonetheless have been exciting to hear this work as transcribed for the entire orchestra.
The impressive soloist Dénes Várjon then took the stage for what may be the finest rendition I have yet heard in the concert hall of Ludwig van Beethoven’s equally celebrated Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, with the artist playing the composer’s cadenzas. An enthusiastic ovation elicited a terrific encore: the beautiful Three Hungarian Folksongs from Csik by Béla Bartók.
The second half of the program was even more memorable, devoted to an extraordinary realization of the magnificent Symphony No. 2 of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Spirited applause was answered by Fischer, always generous with encores, with a delightful surprise: an arrangement for orchestra and voices of the famous and lovely Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14, by the same composer. I look forward to the next appearance of this glorious ensemble.