A dance with the devil, a romantic escapade and a death dance, followed by a titanesque performance of Mahler’s First Symphony that filled the Albert Hall: this evening’s Prom from the Budapest Festival Orchestra, conducted by Iván Fischer, was a Proms treat.

These performances were clearly from east of Vienna and east of Berlin. The easy lilt of the Mephisto Waltz tempo led readily to youthful Mahler’s piece “Blumine” about his early and short-lived infatuations. The woodwind and brass of the Budapest Festival Orchestra playing in a distinctive style reminiscent of “folk music” and early jazz. The orchestra was clearly playing softly and sweetly despite the temptation to play loud to fill the big space.

The piano was moved to centre stage and Dejan Lazić joined the Budapest Festival Orchestra for a stellar performance of Liszt’s Totentanz that filled the huge hall with energy as well as sound. His encore was a cute fugue on a theme from a mobile phone ring tone.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D major (sometimes called the “Titan”), also came from east of Berlin and east of Vienna. It thrilled in every way that a Proms performance from a visiting orchestra should, the clarity of the playing the detail of the phrasing and  the ebb and flow of the musical argument were all refreshing.

A conductor from Berlin or Amsterdam or Chicago would consider such a performance mannered and the variations in rhythms eccentric. And a conductor of Mahler with the lights of Broadway not far off his shoulders would offer us a relative pastiche rather than this performance which seemed to have its roots in the coffee shop trios and the gypsy fiddler at the railway station. The tainted memory of the Mahler's two discarded lovers symbolised by the colour if not the actual music of the “Blumine” movement which Gustav Mahler dedicated to two successive females. This was another and maybe fresher version of Mahler's youth confidently shouting that it had found all the answers to life's questions but as yet without the tragic hammer blows of life or history.

The episodes of the final movement, each of which seems to outdo the preceding, climaxed at the final fortissimo with the brass standing up to deliver the ear splitting effect noted in the score but not usually honoured in performance.

The orchestra stayed on for the following Request Prom whilst the audience left: maybe I missed it but there really should have been an option in the booking system to make that more friendly to the paying audience. It felt like we were leaving before the end.


Prom 63: Liszt & Mahler
Royal Albert Hall

Liszt Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke (Mephisto Waltz No. 1)
Mahler Blumine 
Liszt Totentanz
Symphony No. 1 in D major

Dejan Lazić piano
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Iván Fischer conducto