The ostensible lure of the four-concert series the conductor Ivan Fischer presented with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Budapest Festival Orchestra at Lincoln Center was the chance to hear all nine Beethoven symphonies performed in close proximity by two exemplary ensembles representing different traditions: the period-instrument band and the modern orchestra.
For the Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”), Mr. Fischer radically broke with conventional orchestral seating. The principal flutist, oboist and clarinetist were placed front and center, with other winds mingled throughout the ensemble: a second flutist back near the basses, a second oboist between the violas and second violins, a piccolo player with the trombones on a rear platform.
If the unusual setup was meant to bolster clarity and balance, it succeeded. Mr. Fischer’s tempos and dynamics tended toward extremes, punctuated with resounding silences, but always yielded results that sounded fresh, inspired and wholly in the spirit of Beethoven’s evocative writing.
The layout for the Ninth Symphony was even more peculiar. The woodwinds migrated to a standard grouping near the back, replaced in the front row by Roland Denes, the timpanist, who admittedly played an especially prominent role. Only at one point near the end of the first movement did his animated rumble obscure details elsewhere in the ensemble.
In the fourth movement the four vocal soloists — Lisa Milne, soprano; Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano; Jorma Silvasti, tenor; and Kristinn Sigmundsson, bass — sang from individual platforms positioned among the string players. The Dessoff Symphonic Choir was positioned on the floor in front of the stage, responding to Mr. Fischer’s direction via video monitors in the house. That wandering piccolo player now turned up amid the percussionists.
Once again, Mr. Fischer’s quirky tactic worked. The soloists sounded robust and vibrant from their elevated stations, Ms. Milne and Mr. Sigmundsson particularly. The choir’s projection and enunciation were unusually clear. And the piccolo’s merry tooting effortlessly cut through the clang of small, hard cymbals in the finale’s jaunty march. However unorthodox Mr. Fischer’s techniques, Beethoven’s spirit rang out with an explosive jubilance.mend