Passion filled Theatr Mwldan’s stage in a return visit from Budapest Cafe Orchestra, via the fiery emotion of Balkan gypsy jazz tunes and devotional forays into classical music with a twist. Making a soundscape all-encompassing and intricate enough to be called an orchestra, this four-piece create the homeliness of a cafe setting – where standard lamps create intimate shadows – and enliven it with banter and stagecraft that invite us in.
Founder Christian Garrick plays violin and darbuka, tutors jazz violin at the Royal College and Royal Academy Of Music, composes movie soundtracks from Les Miserables to Borat and has played with names including Dolly Parton, Van Morrison and Johnny Dankworth. Forming the band in 2009, he’s joined by Eddie Hession on button accordion: he’s also accompanied Pavarotti and Chris Rea, and played an accordionist in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Kelly Cantlon’s double bass first featured in northern soul icons Jimmy James & The Vagabonds, while Adrian Zolotuhin’s saz, guitar, domra and balalaika are part of his Russian family’s vast collection of instruments – now put to good use in Hampshire, where he runs a youth orchestra.
Budapest Cafe Orchestra blast off with a euphoric dance tune learnt from Romania’s Taraf De Haidouks, before intense sweetness and string interplay in a traditional Turkish tune results in spontaneous circle dancing. The usually melodious saz rips it up rock-style in a subsequent tune from Turkey: at one point in the maelstrom, the instruments regroup from their frenzy and you could swear BCO had conjured a human voice from the harmonics between triple strings and accordion.
The technical prowess of the musicians continues to amaze as they meld a deep folk piece with I Want Candy before romping on to a convincingly full sound in Edvard Grieg’s Squeezebox Concerto In A Minor: Garrick tells us there are 320 buttons on Hession’s accordian, and I for one believe him. Other tunes follow, as BCO tease us with recognisable phrases from their wide repertoire, taking them abruptly elsewhere into folk, gypsy jazz and lyrical classics, with sudden changes of pace and mood.
Contemplative Irish tune Maids Of The Sheiling gives way to ghostly shivers and exquisite harmonies interpreting Falla, Rodrigo and Faure, before bursting into Bayati – a Turkmeni tune from political rebels Ashkhabad, with glorious 9/8 rhythms. The last piece is suitably broad, filmic and full of drama – we recognise Khatchachurian’s iconic music from The Onedin Line, and our fantasy boat ride is both souped-up orchestral and given to comic slides into hillbilly, honkytonk, authentic violin-seagulls and anything else the wilful humourists can think of.
We’re conducted in singing a Russian folk tune for their encore before we all have to go home and decide whether to admire most their musical mashups, their virtuosity or their entertaining gallop through time and place. A Budapest Cafe Orchestra show is a riot of serious musicianship, good- natured joshing, dedicated archiving and perfected technique: sounds for every taste and occasion served up by this pocket ensemble, with grand stuff to share and a unique and memorable style.
Budapest Cafe Orchestra, Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan, Fri 13 Oct
words JULIA DELI