Concerto Budapest Orchestra play Penderecki’s new Trumpet Concerto at Cafe Budapest

Penderecki’s music from the past twenty years is tricky to assess. Far from the radicalism displayed in his Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, his later works have taken on a more orthodox style. What challenges the assessment is the language he deploys. Has he sold out or is he doing something fresh?
The composer has adopted the neo-classicism and post-romanticism of the likes of Bartok and Strauss but made his musical creations relevant and absorbing without submitting to cliches. Technically, that’s a good thing. It’s entertaining to listen to without being corny or superficial, but it doesn’t challenge the senses or provoke a strong reaction. His recent music evokes emotional responses through musical imagery that draws heavily on the past. It still, somehow, remains fresh and engaging.
His new Trumpet Concerto – a breathtaking demonstration of rich and efficient writing sparkled. Trumpeter Gábor Boldoczki clearly felt at home with the work delighting the audience to such an extent that the encore – a reprise of the last movement – seemed like a no-brainer. This was the high point of the programme, in no small part to Gábor and chief conductor András Keller who approached the work with verve as the band drove through all manner of driving rhythms and melodic terror.
There had been much enthusiasm when Penderecki  stepped on to the stage at the Concert Hall to conduct his Sinfonietta for Strings
and the Adagio from his third symphony. He had about him a beguiling air of the elder statesman, a turn-of-the-century negotiator who was in no hurry, only wanting to do what he loved.
Conducting isn’t perhaps his strong suit, however. His less than demonstrative style made it tricky for the orchestra, particularly the strings, to provide resolute beginnings to sequences. Some of his beats were lost beneath the stand, for example. As a result it felt at times when he was conducting that the Concerto Budapest Orchestra was under-performing.
The second half’s Beethoven 7 felt a little out of place in a contemporary music festival. In the UK there would normally be a nod in the programme explaining the juxtaposition. There were some sublime moments in the second movement which promised great things but didn’t end-up coming to much, Penderecki’s conducting  style making the performance a bit of a missed opportunity. That said, the brass and woodwind playing was stunning – a really silky tone in the trombones, so too the horns.

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