Budapest Spring Festival: 'The Two Faces of God'

Henriett Tunyogi and Tamas Vasary
March 2008
Budapest, Palace of Arts

by Jann Parry Guest Reviewer
It's never as simple as it looks to combine ballet dancers with a grand piano - especially if the piano takes centre stage. But this was the fourth time that the Budapest Spring Festival had invited the Hungarian pianist and conductor Tamas Vasary to give a concert with his ballet dancer wife, Henriett Tunyogi, and they are accustomed to performing together at festivals. As well as choreographing her own solos for the concert, she collaborated with Renato Paroni, who teaches ballet in London (and internationally) and who has recently choreographed a work for London Studio Centre's Images of Dance company.

The theme for the evening was a Romantic Agony dilemma: how to reconcile good and evil, light and darkness, compassion and suffering - the two faces of God. Henriett Tunyogi had dedicated the performance to the late Zoltan Nagy, a fellow dancer who died young; when Tamas Vasary opened the concert with Chopin's Sonata in B flat major, its funeral march seemed a sombre memorial. Two pieces by Liszt followed, with Tunyogi dancing, semi-improvised, to his Benediction dans la Solitude as a spirit of hope.

For the Mephisto Waltz, she was joined by Jose Tirado as a tormented Faust figure. (British ballet lovers may remember him with the Royal Ballet, 2000-2003, and as The Swan in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake). In Vasary's hands, Liszt's fiendish music lured and destroyed Faust, with Tunyogi as his Marguerite, a chimera both consoling and treacherous. Liszt, as Ashton knew, requires flamboyant choreography, and Paroni obliged. He made the most of Tunyogi's contradictory qualities of coolness and warmth, serenity and volatility. Slender and strong, she has a purity of line that can make her seem otherworldly - angelic or demonic.

The second half of the programme included two fine young singers, Julia Hajnoczy and Szabolcs Brickner. She sang Gounod's Ave Maria and Liszt's Lorelei, he Schubert's Nachtmusik and Erlkonig. Tunyogi, in a long mermaid skirt, was an alluring Lorelei, a siren beckoning unwary sailors onto the rocks. No dancing to the Ave Maria or Schubert's Nachtmusik, about the death of a child, but plenty of roles for Tirado to assume in the narrative of the deathly Erl King, who takes a son from his father's arms. By paring the choreography to the simplest of means, Tunyogi in her solo and Paroni for Tirado's dramatic recital, the music was given pride of place.

I was apprehensive about dancers appearing during the closing sonata, Beethoven's Appassionata, thunderously played by Vasary as a defiance of death. They confined themselves, however, to the climactic last movement, in a pas de deux (by Paroni) summing up the evening's themes. Tunyogi in red was a fiery muse, a flame to Tirado's earthier anger: hard to tell whether their encounter was courtship or combat, Balanchine-style. The pas de deux ended with her reaching upwards in his arms as the music crashed to a close. Melodramatic, maybe, but in the context of the concert with its lushly Romantic piano and vocal music, perfectly apposite. All the performances were greatly helped by Budapest's handsome new Festival Theatre, which has an unusually large stage for a relatively small auditorium, and whose wooden surfaces provide a good acoustic. (The concert hall next door accommodated recitals by Roberto Alagna and Nigel Kennedy, among others, during the Spring Festival, March 14-30).