Folktone [below – Adam Römer (violin), Tamás Ferencz (violas, percussion, dance), János Kállai (dulcimer), András Lovászi (double bass)]
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Ilan Volkov
Traditional Hungarian folk music
Bartók Violin Concerto no.2 BB117 (1937-8)
Traditional Hungarian folk music
Bartók Suite no.2 BB40 (1905-7, rev. 1920 & ’43)
Royal Albert Hall, London
Saturday 28 August 2021
Written by Richard Whitehouse; picture of Ilan Volkov by Astrid Ackermann
This evening’s Prom may have seen the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor Thomas Dausgaard replaced by its principal guest Ilan Volkov, but the ‘Bartók Roots’ concept remained unchanged so as to provide a fascinating and instructive overview of the interface between folk and art music.
Each Bartók piece was preceded by a selection of (mainly) dances courtesy of the band Folktone (led by Adam Römer, familiar as section-leader violist with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra). It was hardly a surprise that Patricia Kopatchinskaja, making her belated Proms debut, should have joined this enterprising quartet to make even more explicit the process whereby Bartók translated those folk melodies directly into the thematic content of his mature compositions – the seamless transition of one to the other doubtless giving Proms listeners pause for thought.
No performance by Kopatchinskaja could be described as routine, as it proved with Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto – less an interpretation than recreation of this greatest from a ‘golden age’ of such works, not least for the way it integrates formal rigour with that spontaneity of emotion emblematic of its composer. While there was no mistaking the all-round correlation between the outer Allegros, the means by which Kopatchinskaja emphasized this without loss of subtlety or expressive nuance underlined just how each of these movements reflects then transforms the other. Volkov secured playing of due sensitivity and poise from the BBCSSO – here and in an Andante whose variations on one of Bartók’s most disarming melodies was never more affecting than when this returns, only to evanesce into silence towards its close.
Kopatchinskaja herself returned for an apposite encore of Ligeti’s early Ballad and Dance in partnership with orchestra-leader Laura Samuel, the BBCSSO then joining-in with a repeat of the second piece. A further selection of folk pieces followed the interval, and prior to the performance of the Second Suite – among several early orchestral works by Bartók that are seldom revived but which throw a fascinating light on his evolution. If less amenable to the pointing up of its derivations from folk sources, the putative connections are no less evident.
At just over 30 minutes and scored for relatively reduced forces, this piece catches Bartók on either side of his initiation into collecting then absorbing of folk material. Such glimpses that emerge during the first three movements tend to be brushed aside by recurrences of that late-Romantic ethos stretching back via Strauss and Wagner to Liszt – hence the genial urbanity of the initial Serenata, rhythmic energy of the ensuing Allegro diabolico with its intensive fugal workout (this movement being the only piece its composer ever conducted in public), rhapsodic progress of the Scena della Puszta with its ruminative preamble for bass clarinet or new expressive vistas of the Per finire as it elides between folk melodies and voluptuous harmonies through to a close the more provisional for its having set out on a new beginning.
The BBCSSO recently recorded this work with Dausgaard (Onyx), but the present rendition with Volkov was no less idiomatic and maybe even more responsive to the chameleon-like aspect of its stylistic remit. It certainly ended this Prom in appealingly understated fashion.
You can find more information on the BBC Proms at the festival’s homepage. Click on the performers’ names for more information on Folktone and Patricia Kopatchinskaja, while for more information on the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s most recent Bartók release on Onyx Classics click here