Roby Lakatos Ensemble presents “La Passion”
Roby Lakatos violin
Lászlo Bóni second violin
Jenő Lisztes cimbalom
Lászlo Balogh guitar
Lászlo “Csorosz” Lisztes double bass
Kálmán Cséki Jr., piano
Bailey Hall, Cornell University
April 24, 2014
Thursday night’s performance at Bailey, the last of this year’s Cornell Concert Series, was proof that technology is far less predictable than those who use it. Predictable was the sheer excitement brought to the concert hall by “devil’s fiddler” Roby Lakatos and his all-Hungarian ensemble. How could one not be moved by the balance of incendiary virtuosity and cool programming? Unpredictable, however, was the muddy sound mix, which was prone to distortion and invariably favored certain instruments at the expense of others. Central to, and unique among, those instruments was the cimbalom, a concert hammered dulcimer rarely heard stateside in a live setting and played to captivating effect by one of its greatest living masters, Jenő Lisztes.
It was Lisztes, in fact, who scored the biggest hit of the night with his rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s evergreen “Flight of the Bumblebee,” improvising around it with such artful dexterity that it was like hearing it for the first time. With exception of the occasional solo, however, the cimbalom was lost under the weight of pianist Kálmán Cséki Jr. and bassist Lászlo “Csorosz” Lisztes, each miked so loudly that the dulcimer’s gentle edges were frayed beyond recognition. Over-amplification all around also magnified incidental sounds from Lakatos’s bow, often breaking the spell otherwise spun: Sobering reminders that what we were hearing was being processed, filtered and force-fed the sonic equivalent of a 5-Hour Energy drink. Neither music nor musicians needed any such enhancement, and the decision to rely on it seemed as much motivated by virtue of playing in such a large venue—instead of, for example, the restaurant in Brussels where, from 1986 to 1996, Lakatos’ talents drew collaborators and admirers (Sir Yehudi Menuhin among them) from far and wide—as by a need to balance sound levels to the musicians’ liking. Indeed, in light of their most recent live CD of the same music, which fares hardly better, it’s clear they were hearing things very differently on stage, surrounded as they were by monitor speakers fanned away from the audience.
(See this article as it originally appeared in the Cornell Daily Sun.)