Gilbert Varga takes up a new post in 2019 as chief conductor of the historic Pannon Philharmonic, based at the Kodaly Centre in Pecs.
So who could be more apt to have leading the baton charge through the glorious, irreverent romp that is Kodaly’s iridescent Háry János Suite than the dapper Hungarian (albeit London-born) showman?
Even the modest-sized Thursday night audience couldn’t dampen Varga’s infectious, animated enthusiasm on the box in what was an evening of musical variations.
If the programme was something of a hotch potch – the Classical era Haydn and Mozart of the first half tied tenuously to the tumultuous second by a briefly fizzing, fierce and fiery Rondo finale of Amadeus’ fifth violin concerto – it was an enjoyable and entertaining one.
The orchestra responded to Varga’s warm and collaborative conducting style by producing a lovely textured and nuanced performance through both Haydn’s elegant ‘La Passione’ Symphony and Mozart’s more impish concerto.
Here they were joined by Hungarian soloist Kristóf Baráti (pictured above) who showcased a nimble, feather-light touch and lovely silkiness of tone, floating on the thermals of Mozart’s mercurial genius and at the same time generating a deep sweetness, even in the higher registers, on his 1703 Stradivarius.
A beefed up RLPO returned to the stage after the interval and delivered a powerful, punchy and precise burst of Wagner (A Faust Overture).
Having set out their second half stall, there was then a hiatus while Ed Cervenka’s cimbalom – a decorative dulcimer-like hammered string instrument played exetensively across Mitteleurope – was carried ceremoniously to centre stage.
Varga the showman then sprung a surprise, catapulting himself from off stage and through the strings to the podium to launch in to Háry János’ opening musical ‘sneeze’.
Kodaly’s tongue-in-cheek suite is a selection box of delights with a distinctly 1920s feel, from the Viennese Musical Clock – featuring the irresistible trio of piano, celeste and chimes – to a song which gave viola and cimbalom a starring role, to brass-infused Napoleonic bombast and a crazy ride, under Varga’s baton, to Háry’s final (imagined) triumph.
The concert is repeated this afternoon – which means you’ve still got time to do yourself a favour and bag a ticket.