HIP Mozart is mainstream Mozart at Budapest’s Bartók Spring Festival

By Laurence Vittes, 31 May 2021

Led by their founder György Vashegyi, the period instrument Orfeo Orchestra started off the Allegro assai of Mozart’s Symphony no. 33 in B flat major with just the right speed to make sure that the miraculous succession of inspirations made their maximum impact: not too fast to lose their joy in sheer beauty, not too slow to miss the exhilaration of sheer speed.

Mihály Berecz and the Orfeo Orchestra

© Anett Kállai-Tóth | Bartók Spring

The symphony itself, more the idealized sonata form than the later symphonies and more outright dazzling in its virtuosity, was handled magnificently by a powerful contingent of 20 masked strings, the cellists without endpins, complemented by the colors and nuances of world-class HIP wind playing that no modern instruments can ever match. There was even a fortepiano in their midst, Augustin Szokos filling in a few silences and harmonic black holes to delightful effect, and even when it wasn’t explicitly heard, subtly setting off the other instruments in the ensemble. Among all the special moments, the lead back to the main theme in the Andante was played with particular grace and delicacy, and the woodwinds handled the delicious trills in the Finale like they were whipped cream. Meanwhile the camerawork had a poetic streak of its own, falling in love with the musicians as it was seamlessly cutting.

In Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 9 in E flat major, “Jeunehomme”, Berecz Mihály, at a fortepiano built by Chris Maene (2001) based upon an original Viennese instrument by Anton Walter (1795) with a wonderful silver sound, took his cue from Orfeo’s muscular introduction and gave a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, utterly natural performance to treasure. Mihály was playful from the start, came loaded with ornaments and a variety of imaginative trills. He was a little loud (perhaps slightly amplified?) but the sound of the instrument was so gorgeous that he had to be forgiven. In the (purposely) frantic last movement, Mihály overflowed with virtuosity as he should and still drew attention to Mozart’s new found expressivity in the 3/4 interlude.

Sabine Devieilhe and the Orfeo Orchestra

© Anett Kállai-Tóth | Bartók Spring

While the piano concerto and the symphony had occupied much of the same emotional territory and a delight in the moment, the Mass in C minor started out deliberately, as if unwilling to let the notes go. Sabine Devieilhe stood out among the soloists, singing her glorious solos with a vulnerability that seemed deeply personal and touching. The Purcell Choir, 44 strong, integrated remarkably well with the orchestra and soloists, accentuating the devotional gravity and anguish of the service without becoming lachrymose. Their Qui tollis had a deliberate, Handelian pace and weight; the Gloria rolled in with big, rich orchestral sound; and although the Credo might have benefited from still more initial impact, the way the Choir broadened out the music’s size with its phrasing, powerful banks of sound and fairly subtle nuances – all within a wide dynamic range – gave the performance in the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall without an audience a unique, sad splendor.


This performance was reviewed from the Bartók Spring International Arts Weeks live video stream