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The romantic BartókThe romantic BartókReview of the Bartók-evening on the opening day of the Opera Festival. Until this year Bluebeard’s castle has always been billed at the ’Bartók + Opera Festival’. However, this year the tradition is not continuing, and Bartók’s only opera is not going to be performed. Conductor Gergely Kesselyák, the director of the Festival said the following about it earlier: ’it is good to have a year of rest now’. True, that during the years Bluebeard’s castle has already been performed here in several different productions with many different casts. Instead of another version now the focus is on Bartók’s orchestral works. In the Opening concert we listened to three works from Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 3 and two other, rarely performed pieces: Kossuth Symphony and the I. Orchestral suite.

The MÁV Symphony Orchestra was conducted by the Croatian Mladen Tarbuk, and the pianist was Martina Filjak, also from Croatia.

Of course, it was not by accident, that those works mentioned were chosen. For three years it has been a stated intention of the Festival to stage so-called ’popular operas’, and – as part of the same conception – those kinds of instrumental works, which can also be consumed by the audience more easily. And the three pieces of Bartók performed now are obviously of that type of music.

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Between the two early Bartók pieces – in the second half of the first part of the evening – we listened to Piano Concerto No. 3 in E major. This composition, which is probably Bartók’s most lyrical work and one of his most beautiful ones, his ’will’, was written in 1945. At that time Bartók already lived in the United States, and was gravely ill. He could not complete the piece, so the orchestration of the last 17 bars were finished by Tibor Serly. The premiere took place in Philadelphia on the 8th of February, 1946, with the participation of György Sándor and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The conductor was Jenő Ormándy. The composer dedicated the concerto to his wife (herself a pianist, too), Ditta Pásztory-Bartók.

The romantic BartókThe romantic BartókSince 2009, when she won the Cleveland International Pianist Competition, the young soloist of the evening, pianist Martina Filjak has been a worldwide acclaimed performer. This evening it became clear for us, why. She is an artist with excellent technical skills, disciplined, at the same time expressive and passionate, who fascinated her audience. Her sense of style was already characterised well by the authentic performance of the Baroque-like first movement (Allegretto) with its Hungarian folk music themes, and by her virtuosity in the electrifying, technically confident rendition of the optimistic third movement (Allegro vivace), which is full of extremely difficult rhythmics. Still, the climax was the intimate, lyrical, reverent interpretation of the slow, dream-like second movement (Adagio religioso).

The pianist has probably played in concert halls with better acoustics and played pianos of a better quality, but it did not prevent her to sweep the audience off their feet with her disciplined performance and charming, yet humble manner. As a result two encores followed the big applause (Scriabin: Prelude and nocturne for the left hand and Schumann: Intermezzo).

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People not knowing Kossuth Symphony and the I. Orchestral suite at all, could hardly realize they were listening to the music of Bartók. Both pieces are early compositions from the first years of the last century, when Bartók was strongly influenced by the music of other composers, mainly Richard Strauss.

Kossuth Symphony, written in 1903 was defined as a symphonic poem by Bartók himself. The work was premiered in Budapest, on the 13th of January, 1904. The first performance was conducted by István Kerner and it was a huge success. One month later it was performed in Manchester, too, under the baton of Hans Richter. As I already mentioned, this short, 20-minute piece bears the hallmarks of the style of R. Strauss – and Franz Liszt, Ferenc Erkel, as well – but one can obviously hear the composer’s own voice in it, too. (In the first place, it was probably two Strauss compositions that had a strong effect on the young Bartók: Also sprach Zarathustra and Ein Heldenleben. Bartók himself was also present at the premiere of the previous work in Budapest in 1902, where he met the great German composer personally.)

The content of this program music - that is, an instrumental music that carries some extramusical meaning -, is an homage to Lajos Kossuth, in whom Bartók saw the symbol of the independency of Hungary. This symphonic poem is based on the events of the Revolution in 1848. The work consists of closely linked, brief parts, all of which has short explanations written by Bartók. These movements even have titles, like: ’Once we lived better days’ or ’To battle!’. The first part is an introduction of Kossuth, the last one called ’All is over’ is a funeral march. Kossuth Symphony is really easy to digest for the audience. Heroic, triumphant war scenes are followed by big-picture, grievous, resigned and sad tunes. (By the way, the Leitmotif – which is also a characteristic of program music - running through the whole piece is a parody of the Austrian national anthem.)

The romantic BartókThe romantic BartókThe Orchestral suite No. I is also an early composition premiered in Vienna in 1905. Here Liszt’s, Erkel’s and Richard Strauss’ influence can be observed, and the composer fused the different musical styles masterfully. It should be noted that Bartók began to collect folk songs only a year later, so the Hungarian motives of the I. Orchestral suite come from folksy art songs. The ’csárdás’-like tunes already appear in the first movement (Allegro vivace) of this five-movement work, which is also a kind of an anticipatory summary of the piece. The passionate, slow music of the second movement (Poco adagio) reminds us of nature. During the third movement (Presto) one has the impression of listening to a film music (I could even use the expression ’popular music’ - a masterly composed one, of course - but it would sound strange and dubious in an article about Bartók). The fourth movement (Moderato) is an interlude, while the last one (Molto vivace) is a musical summary again characterized by ’csárdás’ tunes.

 

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The concert was conducted by the exceptionally versatile Croatian artist, Mladen Tarbuk, who is also known as a composer, music teacher, musicographer and producer. Mladen Tarbuk has already performed in several famous opera houses and concert halls around the world. He has conducted in Canada, Mexico, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy and the Czech Rebuplic, and was a permanent guest conductor at the opera house of Dusseldorf. Since 2013 he has been the music director of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival.

Playing the two early Bartók pieces at a high level is a difficult task for the orchestra, all the more so, because they are rarely performed works, and there is no question of a routine performance. Mladen Tarbuk was conducting dinamically, vigorously, very accurately, with wide gestures. He is the type of conductor who is always paying attention to the musicians (during the piano concerto to the pianist, too), helping them, which the MÁV Symphony Orchestra was ’grateful’ for, playing wonderfully. It was a great pleasure to listen to them.

If the organizers’ aim with this concert was to bring Bartók’s music closer to those, who had an aversion to him, then by the cleverly chosen program they definitely achieved their purpose. However, next year it would be nice to see a new version of Bluebeard’s castle again.

 

Balázs Csák

(www.operaportal.hu)

 

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June 13, 2014, Bartók + Opera Festival, Miskolc, Grand Theatre

Bartók, the romantic - concert

 

PROGRAM:

 

Kossuth - symphonic poem

Piano concerto No. 3

Orchestral suite No. 1

Conductor: Mladen Tarbuk

Soloist: Martina Filjak - piano

Performed by the MÁV Symphony Orchestra

 

 

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