The only thing more impressive than the virtuosity of Hungarian violinist Roby Lakatos might be his perfectly shaped handlebar mustache. But those curls can only be admired for so long. His music has considerably more to offer.
Descended from the legendary Hungarian Rom violinist and composer Janos Bihari, Lakatos grew up playing that breakneck music with typical fire and rare exactitude. Tradition is at the root of all his work, but after graduating from the Bela Bartok Conservatory in Budapest he started to expand his range, focusing on the classical tradition in particular, but not at the expense of his Rom foundations. Between the mid-80s and mid-90s he held court at a nightclub in Brussels, leading a small ensemble that helped him master his blend of Rom, jazz, and classical. Since then he’s become an international phenomenon, easily navigating his way through three distinct musical worlds by ignoring the boundaries.
On his album Fire Dance (Avanti Classic, 2005), recorded with his longtime sextet, he doesn’t play any classical pieces, but it’s clear from the fluid arrangements and his playing that he’s got serious academy training. Old Romani pieces go side by side with jazz numbers written by Chick Corea and John Lewis. It’s to the violinist’s credit that the collection never has a patchwork feel, but if you’re expecting the raw charge of Transylvanian fiddle music you’ll be disappointed. It’s hard not to be knocked out by his technique and flair, but the perfection leaves me a little cold, as if the Romani vigor has been tamed by classical rigor.
Still, Lakatos has a reputation as a great performer and I imagine his concert on Wednesday with the Grant Park Orchestra will be a crowd-pleaser. He’ll join the symphony for a mixed program of European classics (Brahms), jazz tunes (Lewis), and contemporary favorites (“Schindler’s List,” by John Williams, which he recorded for the movie soundtrack), and after an intermission his ensemble will play on its own.