Violins!! – Part 3

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Blazin’ Fiddles

Allan Henderson, Catriona Macdonald, Iain Macgregor & Aiden O’Rourke (fiddles); Marc Clement (guitar) & Andy Thorburn (piano)

Roby Lakatos Ensemble

Roby Lakatos, László Bóni (violin); Oszkár Németh (double bass); Ernest Bangó (cimbalom) & Kálmán Cséki (piano)


Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 30 July, 2005
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

In this culminating event of “Violins!!”, a folk-tradition that stems back almost to Bach’s time. Two ensembles occupied the platform: “Blazin’ Fiddles” – Scottish fiddles – and the Roby Lakatos Ensemble from Budapest via Brussels.

The five members of “Blazin’ Fiddles” are all leading players in their own right. Most have embraced the academic learning of their craft with degrees in traditional and folk music – Catriona Macdonald is head of string studies for the Newcastle University degree in Folk and Traditional Music – while others, such as Bruce Macgregor, hail from a more traditional route.

Fresh from the Cambridge Folk Festival it was clear that the group was overawed by the size of the audience – even commenting that they were not used to such a venue. This held them back and despite trying to connect with the audience by encouraging them to whoop and stamp, often out of time, the group never really made the transition to the Royal Albert Hall.

By contrast Roby Lakatos and his Ensemble were not fazed at all. The band shrunk the Hall and transported us to the band’s adopted home, the infamous Brussels night-spot “Les Ateliers de la Grand Ile”, where Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin collaborated so successfully.

The handlebar-moustachioed figure of Lakatos, together with his thick dark hair and portly figure begs curiosity. He is directly descended from János Bihari, who was described by Liszt and Beethoven as the ‘Hungarian Orpheus’ and the ‘King of the Gypsy Violinists’. Lakatos was given his first violin at the age of three and by nine was touring the Middle East with his father’s gypsy band. He also studied classical violin at the Bartók Conservatory in Budapest, taking the top prize.

Moving to Brussels he decided to form his own ensemble. Here he met up with Cséki who had been a childhood friend and is now Lakatos’s brother-in-law. The rest of the band is all from Hungary, experienced in the jazz and gypsy modes of playing, and all with classical music training.

The ensemble began with some Hungarian dances. Listening to them it is easy to hear Brahms’s music. Shifting easily from folk to jazz and then to the quasi-jazz idiom of French composer Michel Legrand’s “Papa can you hear me?” the band is comfortable working together whether jamming at Ronnie Scott’s or in a major concert hall.

Lakatos’s virtuosity is truly extraordinary. The way he easily moves from rapid pizzicato to melodies played in harmonics and then to a whirlwind display up and down the instrument – it is easy to feel that the crown of ‘King of the Gypsy Violinists’ has been passed down to this man. Yet one never feels that he is merely out to impress. His improvisations are well gauged and have been tightly perfected over the course of many years.

The rest of the band is as able. A rendition of the standard “Honeysuckle Rose” gave each member the opportunity to display a unique talent, though a poor attempt at scat-singing by violinist László Bóni – temporarily playing his violin pizzicato and across his chest like a ukulele – is not something to be encouraged.

This is a band that you really ought to see and it is a shame that their late appearance on stage was missed my some members of the audience who needed to get home.

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