'the Devil's Fiddler' Burns Up the Stage

Some people say that musical talent is a God-given gift. But it’s more likely that gypsy violinist Roby Lakatos sold his soul to the devil.

Great musicians, by the sheer force of their talent, have the opportunity to break out of the niche imposed on them by the music industry and wow audiences that fail to notice their less extraordinary peers. Whereas most artists can only reach the small group of fans interested in their particular sub-genre, a virtuoso can grab listeners of all types with a single note from his or her violin.

Lakatos, a world-renowned violinist sometimes called “The Devil’s Fiddler,” brought his ensemble to Sanders Theatre on Friday night as part of the Celebrity Series of Boston. The six men in the group played a medley of songs, all of which had a distinct folk-music flair. The works performed ranged from tango to jazz, and the group played two pieces that were arranged by Lakatos himself.

Lakatos’ ensemble combined grace and rhythmic style that was energized and fast-paced but did not spin out of control. The interplay between the performers created some beautifully complex harmonies, especially between the violins—played by László Bóni and Lakatos—and a traditional eastern European hammer dulcimer called the cimbalom played by Jenö István Lisztes. The entire group worked together to support the leading instrument, usually Lakatos and his violin. They often performed with a gleeful energy that highlighted the dynamism of the music they were playing. Though Lakatos’ bow began to fray as he played, he kept up his feverish pace and simply pulled off the broken strands of horse hair when he wasn’t playing.

Lakatos was the central figure of the show, and Lisztes led the ensemble in a few arrangements, amony them “Le Vol du Bourdon,” or “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” a piece notorious for the technical skill required to play it. He tackled the song with the poise and grace of a true master, sometimes moving so fast that the small hammers he used to sound the strings of his instrument blurred.

Even given the talent of his ensemble, Lakatos’ violin stole the show. He was perfectly in sync with his backing musicians and would adapt his style to every subtle change in tempo or feel. Sometimes his playing was forceful and strong, at other times it was more focused and nuanced. There were moments when Lakatos’ playing would fade into the harmonies of the ensemble entirely, creating one unified but complex sonic texture.

The pace and tempo were never static for too long, and the ensemble managed to balance both improvisation and classical structure. Lakatos exuded control over his music but never gave up the agility of his violin.

The whole group created a flow of tension and energy that would alternate between melodramatic and gleeful. When the tempo would dip, the violins would take control, guiding the music and lending a melancholy air to the song. Then the pace would quicken and the performers noticably become more intense. The music would change as they moved together to tackle the new tempo set by their leader. Lakatos paced and dipped across the stage, stomping to emphasize the beat and urging the audience to clap when the energy was high.

While at times Lakatos would overshadow the rest of his colleagues, the ensemble’s consistently exellent playing was impressive in its own right. Every player had energy and emotion and gave the show a playful dynamic between classical form and folk creativity that is rarely seen on stage.

—Staff writer Bryan S. Erickson can be reached at