Gábor Takács-Nagy – The New York Times

Posted on November 18, 2013

BUDAPEST — Talk to a classically trained Hungarian musician about the Grand Hall of the Liszt Academy here, and you’ll get the sense that it is sacred territory. Many are quite likely to have had their first important musical experiences there.

But it is not just nostalgia that has made the reopening of the Grand Hall after a four-year renovation a major event. A lot has to do with the hall itself, which dazzles the eye with eclectic architecture and charms the ear with excellent acoustics.

The hall reopened on Oct. 22 — Liszt’s 202nd birthday — with a gala, but a concert on Nov. 10 by the Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Gabor Takacs-Nagy was especially worthy of attention, not least because it featured the Russian pianist Mikhail Pletnev.

The program included vibrant accounts of Liszt’s symphonic tone poem “Mazeppa” and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 in C major (“Reformation”), although the hall’s acoustics would make just about any orchestral performance sound vibrant. Whether seated on the main floor or up in the student balcony (performances are essentially free for students), you feel you are smack in the middle of the orchestra because of the enveloping sound.

This is what makes the hall so celebrated as a venue for chamber music and solo recitals, and fortunately the acoustics seem to have come through the renovation unscathed. Yet the hall is comparatively small — after the renovation there are fewer than 900 seats, in part because of wider spaces between rows. The Liszt and the Mendelssohn works pressed against the hall’s limits — a big Mahler symphony would be too much, better suited to Budapest’s Palace of Arts concert hall, which opened in 2005.

Still, the acoustics made these excellent performances sound especially exciting. The Mendelssohn, in particular, had memorable moments at both ends of the dynamic spectrum. The composer’s elaborate, Bach-like contrapuntal treatment of the last movement’s Lutheran chorale tune emerged with awe-inspiring vigor, while the strings’ hushed statement of the “Dresden Amen” progression earlier glowed with intensity.

Read the full review here

The New York Times – Gábor Takács-Nagy, Reviewer – George Loomis