Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Grand Palace Hall, Ion Câmpineanu 28, Bucharest, Romania

On home turf, the Hungarian National Philharmonic opened with Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, responding with gypsy fervour to (Romanian) Cristian Mandeal, not a conductor to distance himself from the music he conducts, here ensuring landscape-descriptive and Slavic-fiery qualities, the Orchestra’s response idiomatic, characterful woodwinds in particular, clarinet solos especially, the violins in deft good order.

By contrast, the first movement of Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto (for Rostropovich) was a little tame, the tempo somewhat sluggish, Sheku Kanneh-Mason playing well enough although short on intensity, if finding greater personality in the slow movement if not totally absorbed into the music’s loneliness, although he was more forthcoming in the extended cadenza – from musing to frenzied over five minutes – maintaining a hectic approach throughout the Finale, the HNP more in the picture, more tactile, than hitherto. For an encore, Kanneh-Mason played his own eloquent and very attractive Melody.

George Enescu’s Second Symphony had only one performance during his lifetime, which he conducted in 1915 (he died in 1955). It’s an ambitious three-movement work scored for large forces including keyboards and percussion. The composer’s intended revision never happened. This is complex music made the more so by ideas that do not quite leap into one’s consciousness and are embedded in structures difficult to follow – perhaps responding to an unstated programme, yet it fascinates in its unpredictability, enigmatic progress, and romantic flourishes, with a sense of arrival at the end, albeit reached somewhat tortuously. This well-prepared fifty-minute account served the work well. Two encores followed, a Brahms Hungarian Dance (not one of the three he orchestrated), stylishly rendered, and something I have no idea about, slow and suggestive of twilight, maybe an opera entr’acte.