Brahms and Bartok

They are not obvious bedfellows, but they combined to produce an exceptional concert at Bristol last week. *The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under their conductor Krill Karrabits were in fine form, and the partnering of composers from different centuries and cultures but with one influence, made fascinating listening. The first piece on the programme – Brahms Hungarian Dance No.1 -hinted at the connection. Bartok was born in Hungary and was a student of its folk music and Brahms was influenced by Hungarian gypsy music from early days when as pianist he undertook duo tours with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Remenyi.

Brahms Violin Concerto concluded the first half of the concert. The scheduled performer was ill and the Munich born violinist Viviane Hagner was his substitute, taking his place at short notice. What a delight she was and how fortunate we were to have a soloist of such calibre. She played with immense delicacy where that was required in the second movement with its cool beginning from the woodwind, and passionate strength in both the first and last movements.

It was a privilege to hear her and I shall look out for her name in the future. A wonderful artist.

I belong to a small ‘University of the Third Age’ music group in Bath. We meet every month, twelve of us, and take turns in presenting a programme of our favourite music on CD’s. Recently one of the group who, in introducing his selection, said that if he was ever invited to choose music on the mythical Desert Island (a BBC programme that has survived many years ), all of the pieces would be by Brahms. I later confessed – to the disapproval of the group -that Brahms is a bit dull for me these days– ‘there is no excitement’ I pompously intoned. Last week’s concert means that I have to radically revise that opinion.

Another sort of Concerto for the second half of the concert – Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, written in only two months and when he was ill and nearing the end of his life in the U.

S.A. Surely it is his masterpiece. I know it quite well from an excellent recording by the Montreal Orchestra conducted by Charles Dutoit and Thursday evening’s performance was in the same league. The work is well named, for every section of the orchestra is highlighted at various moments in the five movements. This is music that needs to be seen as well as heard and my eyes travelled from player to player so that I felt I was hearing it for the first time.


*I had a letter from the orchestra some days ago. They had to change a programme later in the season because they couldn’t afford the extra players needed for a work by Richard Strauss. That admission must be one of many examples of how the British government’s is blind to the truth that culture is not a luxury but contributes to the wellbeing of national life, presently under great strain.