Let me begin by admitting I’m in love with violinist Mihály Sipos. Add to that this testament: I’ll never marry unless all my friends and family pool together to pay Muzsikás the handsome fee to play at my fires of Hymen!
For, despite my mad adoration for the boys in Monument Trio, this Bela-Bartók-ian ho-down goes down as the Best Concert of 2008.
Béla Bartók, with his genius for creating pieces entirely novel in musical language, is sometimes labeled “challenging” or “difficult.” As in WARNING: NOT for the novitiate to the broader spectrum of “The Rest Is Noise” classical.
This concert stamped that notion underfoot in about .5 seconds.
All Mihály had to do was draw his bow and Dániel Hamar strike the ϋtögardon between his knees, and traditional Hungarian music shook the Library of Congress’ floors and walls… hitting 300 souls with St. Vitus Dance. Who knew that Bela’s String Quartet No. 4, his Four Violin Duos, or the Sonatina could do that? I walked out a changed woman, to say the least.
What went down was a total affirmation of the very idea that performance is a heart-beating, breathing art. The superb Takács Quartet, shared the stage with Muzsikás, and the searing and soulful vocalist Ms. Márta Sebestyén, giving birth to something practically unknown to the concert stage: sheer delight.
William Blake, a man who knew bliss better than an evangelical claims to know his Bible, sayeth: Energy is Eternal Delight. If Takács, Muzsikás, and Márta sang all night, we’d have known a large measure of what Heaven oughta be like.
Béla would surely agree. The extra touch that the Library of Congress offered were the original wax cylinder recordings that Bela, and fellow Hungarian Kodály, collected, categorized and saved for the likes of us. The work was physically arduous, but Béla said:
“People are mistaken who believe it is horribly tiring, despairing work, demanding great sacrifices. As far as I’m concerned, I can only say that the time I spent on this work was the happiest of part of my life. I would not relinquish it for anything on earth.
Praise be — that these composers did it!
Nothing encapsulated Béla’s scoring more than the ϋtögardon. Hamar’s three strings, tuned to one tone, he hammered with a stick, while snapping a thinner string, building tension ‘til stick struck the body’s wood. His marvelous percussive cello brought three different rhythms into unity: a rollicking thump,snap and tap. Find it for yourself in Béla’s Allegretto pizzicato of the Fourth String Quartet.
A collaboration never seemed so seamless. We turned from Allegro to Muzsikás’ building sound like an insect-enlivened night to Márta’s sole voice, blending without a hitch, into the melodic cello, resounding clear and deep, against the tension of Béla’s non troppo lento strings. Mihály, all alone, bled straight from the Dance of Gyimes into the next movement of Bartók – Takács played like improv jazz, fluid movements warming daring pauses.
This told you everything that a musicologist would, with so much thrusting and plucking, that you’d never realize you’re learning an awful lot about Bartók…and Hungary. Mihály, descended of shepherds, looked out over the crowd like a man gazing on rolling plains straight to the Carpathians.
His joyful shrug of bow, his beaming grin, said it all: “It’s simply me… simply my song.”
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