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WORLD MUSIC REVIEW

An impassioned Lakatos spans genres on the violin

November 21, 2005|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

If violinist Roby Lakatos were paid on the basis of how many notes he plays in any given performance, he'd probably be the richest musician in the world. His performance Saturday night at Royce Hall was a stunning display of finger-blurring virtuosity. But it was much more, as well.

Start with the fact that Lakatos' six-piece ensemble, a contemporized version of a Hungarian tzigane gypsy band, played a set that defied stylistic definition. Traditional numbers, delivered with dark intensity, alternated with such unexpected entries as Michel Legrand's "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" (from the film "Yentl"). Rhythms shifted from gypsy dances to tangos and jazz. Genre boundaries were washed away.

Lakatos, whose most explosive phrases were often paralleled by the equally virtuosic playing of second violinist Laszlo Boni, cruised through all this with ease. In the process, he offered what was, in essence, a master display of the length and breadth of his instrument, from rich balladry on the G string to stratospheric high harmonics, from impossibly rapid pizzicatos to even more astonishing bowed passages. Gypsy numbers showcased his slippery, emotion-driven phrasing. More classically oriented pieces triggered a precise approach. Then, in the program's third number, Lakatos suddenly leapt into jazz improvisation mode for "Honeysuckle Rose," ripping off a convincing, hard-swinging solo bursting with fast-paced bebop lines.

The support from his players was flawless. Most have been with Lakatos for more than a decade, and their sense of symbiosis was present on every number. Cimbalom player Ernest Bango was a virtuoso in his own right, and guitarist Attila Ronto added Hungarian-style scat vocalizing to his jazz-tinged acoustic playing. Pianist Kalman Cseki provided a subdued but vital harmonic presence, and Oszka Nemeth's bass was the music's propulsive rhythmic engine.

Lakatos arrived at Royce as a relatively unknown quantity -- a sort of "devil's fiddler" throwback to the Paganini-like styles of the 19th century. But by the time he was finished, his mesmerizing playing had captivated his listeners, who understandably insisted upon several encores before they would allow him to leave the stage.

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