EIF: BFO / Fischer 4

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

The Budapest Festival Orchestra’s Edinburgh Festival residency was one of diminishing returns. Or to put it another way, what began with the invigorating and enlightening razzmatazz of Tuesday’s beanbag presentations, and continued with Wednesday’s energised Hungarian collaboration with the National Youth Choir of Scotland Girls Choir, veered dangerously towards gimmickry for the orchestra’s valedictory appearance on Thursday.

It’s the BFO’s trademark to throw surprise and mischief into its performances, ideas that its reforming maestro Iván Fischer believes will “take the musicians closer to their audience”. While the placing of a split horn section raised either side to the rear made complete musical sense at the start of Weber’s Overture to Der Freischütz, where pairs of horns correspond antiphonally, the decision to bring each section successively to its feet in the closing moments of Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony, Duke Ellington-style, took us dangerously into naff territory.

It also seemed strangely at odds with the tenor of the German Romantic repertoire that dominated the evening. Der Freischütz survived unharmed, the horns back among the regular ranks once the point of their segregation was made, and Fischer pushing the momentum on to satisfy the rugged, grumbling rhetoric of Weber’s score. 

Nor was there anything to necessarily rock the boat in the same composer’’s famous Violin Concerto, other than the somewhat mutable whims of the young Swedish-born soloist Daniel Lozakovich. There was no lack of technical assurance in his performance and moments where he beautifully extended the lyrical lines to sublime ends, but this was frequently undermined by rhythmic seizures that would suddenly thrust the tempo into overdrive, unnaturally so, surprising even Fischer and his orchestra in the process. 

Nonetheless there were clear calls for an encore, Lozakovich obliging with the mesmerising acrobatics of Nathan Milstein’s Paganiniana – variations on the theme of Paganini’s most famous Caprice – and a steely virtuosity he had hitherto concealed.

Between the Weber and Mendelssohn, the BFO again reverted to emblematic unorthodoxy, discarding their instruments to form a choir and deliver a creditable rendition of Fanny Mendelssohn’s a cappella choral setting “Schnell Flihen Die Schatten Der Nicht”, the fourth song from her Gartenlieder. It was sweet and sentimental, reflected Fischer’s belief that “all instrumentalists benefit from singing”, and revealed in Felix Mendelssohn’s sibling a comparable compositional expertise. Nonetheless, it bore only a token presence.

There was nothing superfluous about the “Scottish” Symphony, Fischer powering it forward incessantly, but not without regard for its opening sobriety, the sun-filled nonchalance of the Scherzo, the Adagio’s tender expansiveness, and the heroic denouement of the finale. It may have seemed rough in places, a lack of refinement in collective woodwind contributions, but there was plenty fire and soul, and a self-belief clearly communicated by the inspirational Fischer to his receptive players, never more palpable than in the rip-roaring Dvorak encore.

Ken Walton