Masterpieces of the Magyar
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Masterpieces of the Magyar

Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra explores Hungarian legends

Masterpieces of the Magyar
(Photo: RBSO)

Supported by B.Grimm, the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra (RBSO) gave a dedicated concert late last month at the Thailand Cultural Centre to mark the 155th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between Thailand, Austria and Hungary. Many ambassadors were in attendance for this important historical event in the social calendar, including HE Dr Sándor Sipos of the Embassy of Hungary. The emphasis was, in fact, wholly on the music of the Magyar people, featuring top-drawer Hungarian violinist Vilmos Oláh and compatriot conductor Andrea Daru from Budapest. That culture certainly boasts earthy music of the most profound emotional depth, and indeed, the programming for this concert was an absolute delight for the aural senses, opening with the glorious Les Préludes by Franz Liszt.

Composed in the mid-19th century, this orchestral showpiece still endures as the most successful of his 13 symphonic poems, with groundbreaking, original "nature music" that always reminds the listener of his considerable influence on younger colleagues (not least his son-in-law Richard Wagner). Andrea Daru was making her debut here on the podium and quickly demonstrated a cool-headed direction of the musicians in the quiet Andante introduction, negotiating confidently the many transitions through reflective, martial and majestic themes and ensuing tempo/dynamic changes with a clear sense of the overall structure.

It was then the finest of privileges to luxuriate in the magical, entrancing sound world of modern composer Béla Bartók, as virtuoso violin maestro Vilmos Oláh took to the stage to present a seldom performed work from the composer's early output -- Violin Concerto No.1. The second concerto rightly holds its place as one of the very best modern concertos alongside Stravinsky and Berg, and its predecessor is arguably even more daring in its outrageously intense musical language -- quite simply remarkable for a work from as early as 1908 -- whilst the technical demands for soloist are considerable, in the second movement Allegro giocoso in particular.

Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra explores Hungarian Legends.

A youthful paean to idealised love, alas, violinist Stefi Geyer, to whom Bartók dedicated the piece at the time, didn't share his romantic feelings and rejected both composer and composition. Certainly, a mistake as regards the latter at least -- it is unquestionably an opus of great merit. The hushed unfolding of the opening Andante was played with the requisite poignancy and exquisite tenderness, capturing the intended highly sensitive atmosphere well. Emerging out of the silence alone on a fine, sweet sounding antique Italian instrument, Oláh produced a luscious, shining bel canto thread of sound, aided in large measure by an exceptionally intimate connection with his instrument at all times -- at least partly facilitated by a sublime old-school "no-shoulder rest" technique.

The RBSO string section then entered delicately desk-by-desk, slowly building up a quite spine-chilling texture as Bartók's uber-mysterious harmonic palette wove a powerful sonic tapestry throughout the woodwind and brass sections. A searing fortissimo was reached, as it were an impassioned outcry of yearning, but this wave of emotional outburst subsided back to near silence as the Andante came to a close.

Pyrotechnics were then the order of the day for the second and final movement, Oláh scurrying up and down the fingerboard with dazzling displays of swashbuckling brilliance, whilst the immensely intricate orchestral score was realised with great relish by the RBSO, guided with admirable attention to detail by Andrea Daru. Short but powerfully effective, the choice of one of Bartók's celebrated violin duos -- No.36 Bagpipes -- as an encore made perfect sense, giving concertmaster Chalat Limpisiri the exciting opportunity to join the soloist centre stage.

Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra explores Hungarian Legends.

Slightly unconventionally, but to marvellous artistic effect for the second half of the concert, Vilmos Oláh himself then assumed the role of concertmaster, adding a noticeably enhanced sheen and refined quality to the violin section timbre as a whole, which was a pleasure to hear and experience. Professionally active in his career in this role, as much as he is as a soloist, the entire RBSO ensemble clearly benefitted from his experience and violinistic class.

Symphonic Minutes by Ernő Dohnányi consisted of five varied movements, all orchestrated to dazzling effect, starting with a neatly delivered, sprightly Capriccio. A contemplative Rapsodia then featured a lovely cor anglais solo by Kijjarin Pongkapanakrai, who also shone in Tema con variazioni, which itself concluded with a deliciously evocative moment for celesta. A playful central Scherzo involved some well-paced time-signature changes, whilst the whirlwind Rondo finale brought things to a truly scintillating conclusion. (This was later played again as the concert encore).

The final work proper in this all-Hungarian programme was the beguiling Dances Of Galánta by Zoltán Kodály, which was just as spectacular a masterclass in orchestration as the other works in this concert. Its luxuriant harmonies and passionate, idiomatic dotted dance rhythms were brought to life with much conviction by the RBSO musicians, showcasing, in particular, the warm, controlled tone of principal clarinettist Supak Wittayanukulluk.

Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra explores Hungarian Legends.

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