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Gabor, Where Are You?

New York
Carnegie Hall
01/20/2006 -  
Ernst von Dohnanyi: Symphonic Minutes
Bela Bartok: Piano Concerto No. 3
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 1

Richard Goode (piano)
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer (conductor)

Earlier this season, a critic friend invited me to a performance by the Takacs Quartet that he was reviewing for a local newspaper. I have fond memories of this group and so went along expecting a fine evening. Unfortunately, the concert was in that most inhospitable of all New York venues, the basement of Carnegie Hall now known as Zankel Hall, and the foursome was extremely disappointing.

The quartet had been formed by violinist Gabor Takacs-Nagy and was renowned for their extremely delicate interpretations of the literature. I can still remember an exquisite Beethoven 15 from almost twenty years ago as if it were yesterday. But eventually, Mr. T-N moved on to help found the Budapest Festival Orchestra, becoming in the process its first concert master.

This orchestra was very lively and impressive when it came through New York in the late ‘90’s. But now Takacs-Nagy is gone once again and the ensemble seems to have slipped somewhat. On Friday evening at Carnegie Hall, they offered three pieces with strong ties to both America and Hungary.

Symphonic Minutes was written by Ernst von Dohnanyi before he came to
teach at Florida State University. Truth be told, it is not much of a piece, sounding a little like background for a black and white animation, but the orchestra under music director Ivan Fischer gave it a good, if sloppy, run.

Richard Goode was on hand to have a turn at Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3, written in both Asheville, North Carolina and New York. In fact, this was actually Mr. Goode’s concert, he being a featured artist in the Carnegie “perspectives” series this season. I am not a fan of this pianist and find his playing consistently dull. I have twiddled my thumbs for two consecutive seasons at his recitals of Beethoven sonatas. They are not bad per se, just irrelevant.

But this performance was beyond the pale. Bartok had put a tremendous amount of love into the piece as his dying present to his impoverished wife Ditta, but one would never have suspected that emotion in this prosaic account. Mr. Goode may be a fine administrator (he runs the Marlboro Festival along with Mitsuko Uchida), but he is simply lacking the poetry to be a superb performing artist. And, just in case there were any lingering doubts about this muddy rendition, he utterly butchered the final arpeggiated passage which normally serves as a boffo ending. On the way to the lobby for intermission, my companion overheard one man ask “don’t they allow booing here any longer?” I see a Lully award in Mr. Goode’s future.

Mahler wrote some of his Symphony No. 1 in Budapest and conducted its disastrous premiere there. It is one of only two works of his own that he also conducted at Carnegie Hall. Such great music deserves better than it received from this current incarnation of Hungarian musicians. This rendition was rocky and often poorly executed, although, to be fair, Maestro Fischer captured the flow and lilt of the second movement better than most. He also earned a plus from me for not only allowing the eight horns to stand at the end, but also to turn ninety degrees so that their bells faced the audience for the melody portion of their ultimate statement. He deserves the plus, but it can only be attached to a grade of “C”.

The best music making of the night was after much of the crowd had departed, as the first bassist, who had played that great solo in the third movement of the Mahler, and two violinists performed some off-the-cuff Gypsy music. One of the two violins was turned onto the perpendicular to imitate a gardon. This was great fun and stands out in the memory as the highlight of the evening. However, instead of the paprika, it became the goulash itself.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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