Due to World Cup events, their current vacation and their upcoming European tour, appearances by the Los Angeles Philharmonic have been in relatively short supply at the Hollywood Bowl this summer. No matter, if the replacements are of as high quality as the Budapest Festival Orchestra, which began its weeklong engagement on Tuesday night. Some of the interpretive decisions during this long evening may have been curious, but the playing was consistently excellent.
Founded as recently as 1983 by conductor Ivan Fischer and pianist Zoltan Kocsis (forced by a hand injury to withdraw from his scheduled Bowl appearance this week), the orchestra has already become an international presence through recordings and European guest shots.
As much as could be discerned over the Bowl’s high-powered amplification, the orchestra sports a forthright brass section, a finely defined string tone and winds that, as with most Eastern European orchestras, tend toward a bright if somewhat nasal tone.
Born into a Budapest musical family that also includes conductor Adam (familiar for his classic-era recordings), Ivan Fischer earned high marks at his Los Angeles Philharmonic debut in 1983. Now established with his own orchestra, he was obviously out to score big at this first concert.
Indeed he did, starting with what has to be the world’s loudest “Star-Spangled Banner,” continuing through a blatantly overstated reading of Schubert’s “Rosamunde” Overture, and ending with a tarted-up but dazzling sprint through Brahms’ First Symphony.
Fischer left the impression of a heart-on-sleeve musician, with an orchestra capable of honoring his bidding, even to jumping through hoops on demand.
It was probably fortuitous that the evening’s soloist, American cellist Lynn Harrell (much missed since forsaking his Los Angeles teaching posts for London’s purer gold) shares his extroverted approach. Both Haydn’s early C-major Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s sweetly soft-spoken “Rococo” Variations gleamed afresh under their larger-than-lifeministrations.
Harrell’s joke-laden approach to the Haydn might have disturbed the few purists among the nearly 8,000 listeners. Haydn would surely have approved.