21.03.2014 – The Apex, Bury St Edmunds
‘Some of the most enjoyable concerts are those where your expectations are far exceeded by the reality of the performance. I’m not sure if I had fully formed ideas of what I was going to witness as I headed up to the Apex to see this blind violinist’s Gypsy Orchestra on Wednesday night; perhaps some frantically played wedding music with much dancing and stamping of feet?
Fun as that might have been, the reality of this ensemble’s playing is for more ‘sophisticated’ and perhaps more rooted in the conservatoire than at a wedding. Limberger, born in Belgium, helpfully provides us with a brief history of the music after their first number and we realise that we are to be rooted in Hungarian Magyar Nota for the evening. It is explained as Hungarian chanson, with similarities to Portuguese fado, born in the 1700’s and polished for the middle classes but then re-invigorated to general popularity. When Limberger became interested in it the music had started to die out. Such are the tenuous routes that music can travel.
Limberger has stripped this music back to its roots and we were treated to a display of passionate playing from a widely experienced and virtuosic septet. The music is hugely complicated and one imagines, very difficult to play. It contains shifting patterns of accompaniment which at times can be befuddling; the tunes move seamlessly from mournful sliding notes to furiously fast ensemble pieces. Yet the abiding impression is not that the whole experience is too esoteric; it is the joy of world-class musicians knocking each other out with their skill, a joy that transfers naturally to the audience.
On stage were two accompanying violinists, one playing in the very distinctive style of bracs (by turns extraordinary chordal glissandi and chopped ska-like rhythms) a wonderfully subtle cellist, bowed double bass, clarinet and most interesting, the gypsy piano or cimbalom. This was indeed something to behold, embellished with beautiful carving and hit with small furry-tipped hammers.
In this stellar company Limberger stands out. By any definition of the word he is a hugely talented musician – his violin was soaringly expressive and he has prodigious technical ability. If that were not enough we were treated on two occasions to his powerfully affecting singing too.
Another star on the night was the sound in the Apex; praise is due yet again for the designers of this great venue. Limberger commented at one point, ‘It sounds good in here’.
Something of an understatement.’