Danes from Transylvania
Long Flute Melodies
Transdanubian Ugros and Fast Csardas
Bartok: String Quartet No 4
Bartok: Violin duos with source tunes
Sonatina on Themes from Transylvania
Ballad of the murdered shepherd
Romanian Folk Dances with source tunes
One of the world’s most prominent string quartets, the Hungarian Takacs Quartet made a stop at the Coolidge auditorium of the Library of Congress on Friday night, and they were not alone. Less widely known but just as talented, the four musicians of the Muzikas brought us the old traditional Hungarian folkloric way of playing and improvising. They were accompanied by a young but already quite tested folk singer: Marta Sebestyen. International recognition came to her after two of her songs were used on the soundtrack of The English Patient, but she usually sticks to more traditional folk music and songs. The concert was titled “Bartok and Folk Music”, and that is exactly what we got.
A huge fan of Hungarian village folk music, Bela Bartok was always eager to incorporate its melodies, harmonies and rhythms into the new musical language he was creating. Therefore, the two ensembles decided to collaborate and study the influence of peasant music into more modern works, such as Bartok’s celebrated fourth quartet or his ever popular Romanian Folk Dances. Far from being a dry academic exercise, the concert turned out to be a delightful musical experience during which both musical genres, the classical and the rural, were played alternatively or together to highlight their similarities and differences.
After a couple of Transylvanian dances and melodies by the Muzsikas, their classical counterparts appeared for what may be Bartok’s highest achievement: his String Quartet No 4. The Takacs’ vibrant performance was excitingly enhanced by the interspersion of traditional tunes played by the Muzsikas in between the original movements. The result was a quite effective succession of contrasting but nevertheless unifying short pieces all belonging to the complex puzzle of Hungarian music. After the intermission, Muzsikas’ first violin and Takacs’ second violin both simultaneously engaged in three violin duos, from Bartok again, each playing his own style and, here again, highlighting their different musical perspectives while remaining in perfect harmony. The last part of the program was the Romanian Folk Dances, which undoubtedly remain one of his most beloved compositions, and their high-spirited rendition by both ensembles, paying alternatively and eventually together, easily brought the house down.
It wouldn’t be fair to overlook the more traditional short works such as songs, vocal feats – Marta Sebestyen’s imitation of bagpipes was a lot of fun – dances, and even old recordings, but the evening belonged to Bartok, and the encore loudly begged for by the enthusiastic audience started with a short folk song and slowly turned into another brilliantly exuberant rendition of his sixth folk dance by both Takacs and Muzsikas. In one fell swoop, these dedicated ambassadors of Hungarian music managed to combine rural, classical and fun, and earned our ever-lasting gratitude.