Wotan’s emotional progess Overshadowing everything this month, even the splendid Peter Grimes that inaugurated the LSO’s centenary season, were the two concerts given at the Barbican by the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their musical director Iv?n Fischer. Both started imaginatively with works by Liszt, and whilst it was good to hear some of his symphonic poems, which are rarely performed, and never so well as by the BFO, there is no doubting that the heart of the two programmes were the performances of Act I of Die Walk?re on the first night and its long final scene on the second.
Fischer was certainly well served by his singers. If Jan Kyhle as Siegmund did not have an ideally heroic tenor, he sang very musically, and by not trying to force his voice into a different kind of instrument he was by the end of the act able to achieve an ecstatic fervour that was very affecting. Again, as a mezzo-soprano Petra Lang would not seem an obvious choice for either Sieglinde or Br?nnhilde, but in the event was superb as both. Bringing somewhat darker vocal colouring to these roles than we are used to, she still manifested a sense of line that was quite remarkable. With both vocal security and a supremely controlled interpretative passion, this was Wagnerian singing of an unusually high order. John Tomlinson is of course the leading Wotan of our day, and if his voice has now a hint of vulnerability that it lacked ten years ago, this seemed only to add to the power of the reading, in which Wotan’s emotional progress was unerringly charted. His cries of “Leb’wohl” as he prepared to leave Br?nnhilde asleep behind her wall of fire will live in the memory.
That these concert performances had the kind of impact that they did was due as much to the orchestra as to the singers. Fischer himself set speeds that whilst in no way diminishing the momentum of the music allowed the orchestra to produce an intensity of expression that resulted in Wagner performances as moving as any I’ve heard. There was not a single dead note and phrases and details that are so often passed over in performance were given a musical and emotional significance that was cumulatively devastating.
For a London audience, there must be more than a passing interest in how an orchestra that was only founded…