Miklós Almási: The Budapest Strings are celebrating

This year, the Budapest Strings are celebrating the fortieth anniversary of their existence. To commemorate this special anniversary they made a nice selection for their fans.

Forty years is a long time, and in the meantime we have had to compete with a number of heavyweight orchestras. (Concertmaster: János Pilz). The march to the top has accelerated in the last six to eight years; today they can boast with quite a few great appreciations, and the domestic audience has also discovered the charm of their wonderful-sounding orchestra. (Arti director: Károly Botvay – I still remembered him from the Bartók String Quartet, a real musician, and a highly knowledgeable analyst.) What can I say: by today they caught up with performance of the legendary Ferenc Liszt Chamber Orchestra led by János Rolla.

The album begins with Johann Michael Haydn’s Nocturno. This isa big surprise: it’s a colourful, four-movement piece, and it radiates a cheerful vibe that one rarely gets from the elder of the Haydn brothers. If I hadn’t see the “casting,” I would have guessed Mozart. The sounding of the piece is a real discovery, but there is much more than that: with the launch of the first movement (Allegro), they take on a pace that takes one’s breath away. They are so together that you can hear almost every instrument and of course the joy of playing together is palpable. The atmosphere of the second movement is performed with seriousness and slow but deep dramaturgy. And finally the last movement (Finale, vivace). A true baroque ending, the performing sytle of the first movement returns.

I was very surprised by the interpretation of Bartók’s Divertimento. I know that this is the orchestra’s favourite piece, even when they perform abroad, is mostly what the hosts ask of them to play. The pulsation of the first movement is alternated with exclamations and dance rhythms: Bartók plays folk songs, this time cheerfully, and the orchestra highlight that moments from the otherwise quite a few bitter musical moments.

The same ferocious dance rhythm makes the last movement (Allegro assai) unforgettable, the vivid pace of which the ensemble presents with astonishing restraint but at the same time with elementary dynamics. I’m only enthusiastic about the last movement here because I’ve never heard this layer of music played with such vibrant energy before: it is a final punch line on the record, and real orchestral feat. I can imagine how much hard work and how many rehearsals it could have taken to perform the “interweaving” of these three items with different moods with such the captivating dynamics of the allegro assai. The orchestra is in no hurry and doesn’t drive the rhythm – it flows out of them, as naturally as a clear mountain stream. The lad’s dance theme goes into fugato with cheerful simplicity and continues to vary with playful pizzicato – the irony of which is a famous Bartók solution. After the sad middle movement, this multi-layered closure — that is, the way the orchestra  performed it — discovered and preserved the absolute modern character of the piece.

And there is something to learn for me here. I am ashamed to confess, but George Orbán’s monumental piece was a late discovery for me (seven movements of the Razumovsky trilogy). It’s a beautiful piece of deep devotion although I think can only discover traces of a reference to Beethoven’s client, the Russian Count. But this was not Orbán’s original intention: he presented his diverse art instead and the orchestra masterfully showed the quasi-romanticism of the work sometimes referring to Transylvania.


The recording was made in the state of the art studio of BMC (Budapest Music Center) (director: László Gőz), ensuring a high standard of sound.