31.03.2014 – Tcha Limberger’s Budapest Gypsy Orchestra at Union Chapel, N1
‘It seems to be pure coincidence that this eccentric yet intoxicating band should have been on tour at the same moment that The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson’s love letter to an idealised Mitteleuropa, is playing in the cinemas. While Anderson’s film is set in a country that does not exist, Tcha Limberger’s musicians pay homage to Magyar Nóta, a brand of folk-tinged music that was invented to tickle the fancy of the Hungarian nobility.
It’s ironic — you might almost say Andersonian — that Limberger himself is not actually Hungarian at all, but Belgian. A blind, polyglot violin virtuoso of part-Gypsy descent who has also made a name for himself as a Django-esque guitarist, he has immersed himself in a tradition that is to the outsider rather less accessible than the rollicking gypsy anthems of the cult Romanian ensemble Taraf de Haïdouks.
Limberger is the ideal guide, his witty English introductions poking gentle fun at the songs’ obsessive celebration of love and fickle Fate. Yet when he sang a couple of numbers, his quizzical voice took on a raw, wounded urgency.
The music zigzagged relentlessly, sometimes soaring into the heavens, sometimes bumping along one rutted country road after another. Limberger’s extraordinarily lyrical playing was counterbalanced by the dissonances of István Fehér’s ornate cimbalon. The instrument’s tunings are otherworldly, to say the least, but there was no mistaking the power and fury of Fehér’s playing.
All the while, our eyes and ears strained to catch the improvised cues that carry the seven musicians through each piece. István Ruszo’s violin and Csaba Lukasz’s clarinet capered in Limberger’s shadow, while the viola of Norbert Olah — held at a near-vertical angle — marked out the beat next to Vilmos Csikós’s double bass. When Károly Szegfu was given his opportunity to play a cello solo, the dance suddenly took a more stately turn.’