Once upon a time, a demon was exorcised from a player piano. It took up residence in Budapest at the seat of a cimbalom, and that is Jeno Lisztes.
Meanwhile, Charlie Daniels visited Hungary and lost his soul to a man with a black leather suit, a red handkerchief, and a violin. That is Roby Lakatos.
The Roby Lakatos Ensemble performed at the Modlin Center Saturday night, a concert almost entirely filled with devilishly fast, Gypsy-inspired music. Besides violin and cimbalom, there was an unfortunately overshadowed second violin, a guitar and a piano, both with several excellent moments of glory, and an underappreciated upright bass.
The cimbalom is played like a hammered dulcimer, but has a sturdier sound. At times, especially on sustained notes, it almost sounded like a brassy wind instrument. Its best moments were as a solo or in duet with violin or guitar.
Lakatos is an incredible violinist, no doubt about it--maybe a little too incredible. Although the ensemble managed major tempo and rhythmic shifts with ease, they had a hard time cohering melodically and harmonically when Lakatos was tearing up and down the neck of the violin.
This problem didn't bother me so much itself, actually, but it was a symptom of a bigger issue: the program could have used a little more variety. The second piece--"Papa, Can You Hear Me" from the movie "Yentl"--demonstrated that Lakatos could wander down lonely paths in dusk-laden forests, musically speaking, but he never went back there.
Most of the pieces alternated fast sections with slower--or at least calmer, duet-based--sections, but in general, a little more swagger and a little less sizzle would have helped me enjoy the concert more.