Less than a week apart, two pianists detonated their surprise bombshells of keyboard genius on the unsuspecting audiences at MÜPA Budapest: Lithuanian pianist Muza Rubackyte and South Korean pianist Yeol Eum Son delighted listeners with superb musicianship and pianistic splendor on 30 September and 7 October, respectively.
Ms. Rubackyte was the featured soloist with Concerto Budapest, led by Zoltán Rácz, performing the Budapest premiere of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Piano Concerto (“Resurrection”), which was dedicated to the 9-11 tragedy in the U.S. The 45-minute score evoked the horrific attack on New York City’s twin towers, and its nasty aftermath of toxic dust, death, and the eventual erection of a memorial in the lower Manhattan area.
The pivotal role of the piano in this sonic portrait of inexplicable terror seemed to be one of moral indignation and commentary. Using the vast artillery of the percussion section and wind instruments, the composer surrounded the keyboard’s fierce responses with intermittent waves of doomsday devastation. The strings managed to poke through the chaos with heavenly strains of a bittersweet chorale that sounded like angels hovering above the rubble. Church bells that occasionally rang out were undoubtedly recalling those of Wall Street’s Trinity Church, whose majestic presence provided emotional opposition to the shocking destruction.
Rubackyte’s muscular interpretation (she had worked on it personally with Penderecki) was something of a miraculous experience for everyone witnessing it: its demanding score is a tour-de-force and showpiece of 21st century piano repertoire. Her impressive command and precision were key to the historical illumination — to not only a sinister piece of history but the genius of Penderecki’s portrayal of it. In a post-concert interview, Rubackyte affirmed that the concerto does purport to resurrect our souls, as its title suggests, “but also to remind us that evil still lurks.”
This concert began with Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” overture, and ended with the “Symphonic Dances” suite from his Broadway musical “West Side Story.” Maestro Rácz and the orchestra brilliantly tossed off the rhythmic fireworks, the many jazz elements, the insouciance of the characters, as well as the utter heartbreak of the finale. This fine concert program actually represented two aspects of modern Americana — using two very different perspectives.
Yeol Eum Son and Gergely Madaras in powerful debuts together
For three consecutive evenings (7, 8, 9 October), the Budapest Festival Orchestra, led by Gergely Madaras, hosted pianist Yeol Eum Son in her Budapest debut with Rachmaninov’s 2nd piano concerto. To those of us who have witnessed hundreds of artists’ interpretations of this bedrock of the romantic concerto repertoire, this could have been just another OK experience. Ms. Son’s version, however, flew off the charts as one of the most powerful and thrilling. When I closed my eyes, I could hear the organic physical strength of Marta Argerich and the soul of several famous Moscow Conservatory alumni.
Son’s dynamism, mixed with exactitude and clarity, was reflected in Madaras’ control of the score’s orchestral colors and tempos, and with all textures clearly defined. The audience was entranced with her sparkling encore: Moszkowski’s “Spark,” a little-known gem that she dispatched with astonishing speed, precision, and her palpable love of performing it.
For these three consecutive concerts, Madaras had replaced ailing conductor Dmitry Kitaenko at the last minute, and effectively made his debut conducting the mighty Sibelius Symphony No. 2 –- a complicated work that belies its surface simplicity. His chipper tempos at the start boded well for setting up the contrasting second movement, which is full of fragmented sections that don’t always fit together seamlessly. By tuning into the emotional qualities of each, Madaras skillfully mined the unpredictable mood shifts to his advantage throughout. Later, after the continuous waves of ‘Sturm und Drang,’ the Maestro arrived at the grand finale of this enigmatic and epic symphony with glacial majesty.
* By Alexandra Ivanoff