Review: Roby Lakatos quintet sizzles in opening concert of Chamberfest 2018

Roby Lakatos

If you ever want to open up a music festival with a bang, you should consider hiring Roby Lakatos and his talented band.

The Hungarian master of the gypsy violin was in fine and flashy form on Thursday night as he presented a concert of music that was complex, high-powered and moving at a tempo that at times seemed almost impossibly fast. Even though he was dressed in a gold jacket with black trim and decoration and sporting a grey afro-style ‘doo and his trademark moustache, nothing could out-dazzle his playing.

Even when playing pizzicato, Lakatos’ fingers just flew over the strings. It was actually kind of mesmerizing watching him perform. No wonder Yehudi Menuhin was so impressed when he saw Lakatos playing in a Brussels restaurant several years ago and helped introduce him to the wider world.

Lakatos comes from a family steeped in the gypsy tradition, but he has gone much further with his playing.

It doesn’t really seem to matter what he tackles, he ranges through a myriad of musical styles that are all controlled by his talented bow arm. Music from the steppes of Russia, or the mountains of the Balkans merges with Brahms and Rimsky-Korsakov and the jazz traditions established by the legendary Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. (An aside: Lakatos has recorded with Grappelli).

Lakatos likes to present to music of Hungarian composers in his performance and he did just that with the Valse Triste written by Ferenc Vecsey who was also considered a virtuoso violinist in his day.

His performance flowed from one piece to another with the occasional explanation from the maestro. His medley from Fiddler on the Roof, including If I Were a Rich Man and Sunrise and Sunset, was a smash, taking the music of Jerry Bock and making of it a swirling stew of styles and speeds.

He was backed by four talented performers, Laszlo Balogh (guitar), Vilmos Csikos (double bass), and Kálmán Czéki on piano, but, without doubt, cimbalom player Jeno Istvan Lisztes was the crowd favourite.

The cimbalom is essentially a large open box with metal strings stretched across its top. It’s common in Eastern European music and is similar to the hammered dulcimer. It is played by hitting the strings with two beaters.

But the way Lisztes played his cimbalom was a lot more than just hitting it with sticks. His cimbalom added a harp-like tone to the music but if Lakatos is certainly the fastest bow in the West, or maybe everywhere for that matter, Lisztes, who graciously talked about his instrument to patrons during the intermission, was Lakatos’ match in speed and musicality on the cimbalom. He shone especially in a virtuosic second half solo.

The quintet will play some jazz a la Reinhardt and Grappelli on Friday night at 10:30 p.m. at Ecole Secondaire de la Salle, as part of the Chamberfringe series.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.