Crossover is nothing new. In the 19th century, Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms appropriated Hungarian gypsy melodies for the salon and concert hall, drawing on the verbunkos fiddler style in their collections of rhapsodies and dances. After their glittering Mahler 4 on Wednesday, encrusted in Klimtian gold, the Budapest Festival Orchestra voyaged back down the Danube for a night in old Café Budapest. With Iván Fischer as amiable host, they drew the music back to its folk roots, inviting three players from that tradition to add a liberal sprinkling of paprika to the orchestral goulash. Critical review by Mark Pullinger, Backtrack.
Many of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies are characterised by the variations in tempo found in the traditional csárdás, starting out slowly (lassú) before whipping up to an invigorating finish (friss, literally “fresh”). There is an improvisational quality to the music as notated by Liszt, but Fischer upped the ante by peppering the scores with cimbalom, Jenő Lisztes introducing us to its succulent tang with a brief solo.
Any Hungarian band needs a primás – a violinist leader to wander from table to table and dash off flamboyant fireworks. József Lendvay’s modest demeanour doesn’t quite fit that bill… at least, until he plays. Lendvay first picked up a violin at the age of two and now, well into his seventies, his playing – on his father’s fiddle – exuded natural charm and a lifetime inhabiting this music. What tales this violin could tell! His son, József Lendvay Jr, opted for a conservatory training but traditions hold strong and he dispatched Pablo de Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen with swagger, style and smoky tone.