In other words, Ilya Gringolts, who is not considered to be an orthodox historical early music performer, delivered a natural, authentic and therefore highly remarkable performance. As for the “excitement”: the illustrious soloist played suggestively, passionately, full of enthusiasm and spontaneous gestures, resulting in an unquestionably world-class production.
According to a delightful tradition, the old Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra led by János Rolla would collaborate with the excellences of the Hungarian music society as an integral part of the national music scene and would try to please its audience for decades by inviting the best soloist of their age to Budapest. Those who were recognized for the following: they knew the Orchestra well, played together numerous times and considered the ensemble one of the best chamber orchestras in the world. Consisting of young people mostly, the new Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra led by István Várdai as an artistic director and the concertmaster Péter Tfirst remained true to the old tradition. This has much to do with the fact that the invited major artists, ranging from Emmanuel Pahud and Martha Argerich to Julian Banse, are well-aware that the new Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra is as good as the old one had been, making them prone to say yes to any invitation even today. It is clear to them that the current members are all excellent artists and that their different qualities can produce a common value when working together.
The latest gift from the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra to its audience in Budapest was the concert of the Russian violin genius, Ilya Gringolts (1982), which still took place undeterred by the inhibitory circumstances, in the middle of yet another wave of the coronavirus epidemic, streamed online from the stages of the Budapest Music Centre instead of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music. (According to the original plan, the artist would have played in the winter months, but a family member dropped down ill and he himself was quarantined as well, postponing the guest performance till March.) The organizers also coined an imaginary title for the programme. Personally, I doubt the effectiveness of such titles, seeing how they tend to end up rather odd: many times the context gets disrupted, interfering with the unity of thought. Nevertheless, the umbrella term worked perfectly this time: the phrase “Excitement” chosen by Péter Tfirst as a guiding thread seemed to fit all pieces of music being performed. When compiling the present article, I used the Italian Baroque equivalent of the concept (and mode of presentation) in the title as fashioned in Monteverdi’s time to indicate that this is a timeless phenomenon, relating to all pieces of noteworthy art born in each and every era: empathy, disposition and fire. This is what that often-quoted Hamlet monologue enough to have become a catchphrase is all about: a heated recitement. Quality art should be passionate, powerful, spellbinding and mesmerizing. It should inevitably contain excitement.
Excitement undoubtedly played a decisive role in the three works performed during the evening, moreover, the three works exemplified the appearance of the notion in three different epochs of music history: in the 21st century (Postmodern), the 18th century (Baroque) and the 19th century (Viennese Classicism). The night opened with the Hungarian premiere of Czech Pavel Fischer’s (1965) Mad Piper representing contemporary music. Fischer is a violinist and a teacher at the Royal Northern College of Music, also listed as a composer since 2007. The title of his quartet is to commemorate Bill Millin (1922-2010), a Canadian bagpiper of Scottish origin who inspired his fellow soldiers with his passionate performances during the Normandy landings. The multi-movement work truly builds on fiery music and does not sound “contemporary” at all; considering its folkloric mixed language, its date of origin could easily be mistaken for earlier days, carrying traces of Slavic, Romanesque and sometimes even Oriental music in way which is typical for the folklore concept of today’s world music. We have heard an excellent performance, even if it seemed more impressive than significant for me.
Ilya Gringolts performed Jean-Marie Leclair’s Violin Concerto in G minor. He plays a Stradivari instrument, obviously performing the Romantic repertoire pieces on it, and while I doubt it would have been “downscaled” to a historical instrument, also, as far as I could see in the stream, he wasn’t even using a Baroque bow, the instrument sounded as a Baroque-copy instrument and the articulation, the interpretation of sound length, the accentuation and the vibrato-free sound formulation resulted in a pure early music experience. In other words, Ilya Gringolts, who is not considered to be an orthodox historical early music performer, delivered a natural, authentic and therefore highly remarkable performance. As for the “excitement”: the illustrious soloist played suggestively, passionately, full of enthusiasm and spontaneous gestures, resulting in an unquestionably world-class production.
In the second part of the night, Beethoven’s monumental late masterpiece, the Diabelli Variations was performed on strings as transcribed by Gringolts himself – introducing him as a concertmaster as well. Along with Bach’s Goldberg Variations and the Händel Variations of Brahms, the piece is considered to be one of the best classical variation cycles: it presents an unbridled, impressive character cavalcade, the whole universe in fifty minutes. The transcription was a great success: the work turned out to be a real idiomatic string piece which the orchestra played with obvious pleasure (and audible precision), and keeping the number of Beethoven’s later experimental, unusual string pieces (quartets especially) in mind, we might say that it involuntarily found its place among them. It might not be a far-fetched guess that the audience will meet Gringolts’ transcription again on the concerts of the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra in the future.