Music Stripped of Innocence
ge. Norderstedt –
This music could hardly be described as being “moderato cantabile”. It is, rather, a passionate whirl of tireless rusticity. Zengő, from Pécs in Hungary, is no member of the league of amateur musicians, but a professional ensemble, whose virtuoso rubatos rip off the cloak of innocence from the body of their country’s folk music heritage. Lovingly, at times even a little sentimentally, the six-member band at once break with and preserve tradition, taking on board both modern interpretation and, engagingly, traditional form. The group holds audiences breathless as they play the folk music of Transylvania and Moldavia.
From the very first beat, we feel locked in a frenzied beehive with Zengő. The horsehair splits on the bows of the fiddlers, the bagpiper fills the melodies with its ceaseless plaint, echoing the emotion of the female singer, the pipe accompaniment is played with sensitivity. The bass player’s crafty use of thumb and index finger to pluck the strings raises the strict rhythms beyond mundane sadness, while the others pull at their bows and cosset the melodies, producing more by far than the sentimentality of the rustic idyll. Floating tune and esoteric lyric converge into ballad, in which melancholy and jubilation become perfect bedfellows.
The rhythm of the czardas then transmogrifies into punk, and the virtuoso dancer leaves us with no doubt that the age of wild festivities is by no means a thing of the past. It is to Zengő’s credit that it raises folk music out of cloying rustic romanticism and returns it to its original form. Their Nordenstedt performance was a fiery gallop through a seemingly inexhaustible repertoire.
The Six Hungarians who Shook Up the Old County Hall
The ageing building must have lived but rarely through such an event: the walls shook, the windows rattled, the floor trembled. The reason? Not the wild northern wind, but the Zengő Folk Ensemble and the enthusiasm which they extracted from their audience.
The music and dance performance of the six-piece band moved in an arc from serene love songs to leaping arrangements of stormy shepherd dances. Their repertoire also included the Transylvanian dance suite, the original sound of the instrumental accompaniment of which blended melodies sometimes of three thousand years with the harmonies of the Renaissance.
The group was able to hold its audience spellbound without recourse to temperamental and noisy rhythms. Unable to understand a word of Hungarian, still they were captivated by the enchanting a cappella performance of the female singer.
The other strength of the ensemble was in the dance. Anyone to whom this brings to mind awkward peasant dancing has not encountered the “unaccompanied” dancing of Márton Kovács. “Unaccompanied” in this context only means that he is unaccompanied by instruments, for he accompanies himself with clicks and claps, soft and harsh stepping, alternating accelerandos and retertandos: in short, he compensates for an entire orchestra.
This dance performance was received by a mostly older audience with wilder ovation than a crowd of fourteen-year-old teenagers at an “Ace of Base” concert.
One’s feet were hardly given a moment’s rest during the evening, as they tapped away to the rhythm of the music. For this reason the public was especially grateful to the closing section of the Zengő performance; a come-all-ye dance session, in which they could learn the basic steps of Hungarian folk dance. The opportunity to release a pent-up need to move was joyfully received and visibly and audibly satisfied.
P.T. - 3.5.94
They completed their studies in the school of conscious propagation of folk music, and can perfectly reproduce the sounds of Transsylvania and Moldavia. They are able to fell and enter fully into the characteristic style and nuances of Transdanubia. Their record rises above other of Dance House and living folk music in its self-inflicted demands, artistic fidelity and systematic arrangement of its material.
Imre Olsvai – Hungarian Academy of Sciences
“The source of all music can be found in the soil, the streams, mountains, and the tales that, ancient though may be, still provide a message for today. We are touched by the rich ornamentation and rhythm of the dance tunes, the alternate softness, wildness and warmth of the devil's music. The music performed by Zengő achieves in but a second an atmosphere of bewitchment. They know the knack of gripping us, whether from a stage or from a recording… with ability, autenticity, energy and proud."
The group has become deeply engrossed in studying the folk music of Transdanubia and has expertly repieced together a selection of Somogy leaping dances and chardash dance music. …This rough, hard but attractive ancient music is played with a persuasive peculiar power by the Zengő Folk Ensemble.
Bertalan Andrásfalvy – Minister of Culture 1991-93
The House of God becomes a Dance Hall
The series of events called “Music in Old Village Churches” is opened in Kirchär by the Hungarian ensemble Zengő - Inimitable folklore
KIRCHÄR. “All Hell broke loose” on Sunday afternoon in the church at Kirchär, thanks to the Zengő Ensemble, whose tempestuous concert opened the “Music in Old Village Churches” series on the Mons Tabor small stage. The decision to invite the Hungarian sextet was like winning the jackpot.
“That was a world-ranking performance, and right here, in little Kirchär!” enthused one lady member of the audience, an opinion indubitably shared with the vast majority of those attending the event, who were spellbound by the splendid playing of the ensemble. This evening a fine interpretation was heard of Hungarian folk music, a mixture of archaic Hungarian folklore with its unique melodic world of an ancient Asian culture blended with European melodies. It was a melodic world that required time for the German ear to become acclimatized to. However, this did not prove to be a problem for the attuned ears of the Kirchär audience. They were visibly impressed by the blood-thumping music. Not a foot remained motionless as everyone moved to the beat of the music provided by the five musicians and the voice of the lovely female singer, Ágnes, with its characteristic Eastern European shades, among the sounds of the strings. The instruments themselves are authentic, partly constructed by their own hands.
The most beautiful songs of Hungary, Transylvania and Moldavia were performed upon fiddle, three-string viola, bass, peasant clarinet, lute, zither and the unusual hit gardon. The bagpipe, which until recently had been leaping around Hungary in the form of a black goat, wailed out blood-racing melodies transformed into wild dance steps by the lightning-legged János.
Each and every part of the concert was rewarded by applause that did not want to stop. The rhythmical and dance elements of the instrumental pieces brought about in every one a desire, conscious or subconscious, to get up and dance. Evidently the group is aware of the effect they have upon their audiences, for at the end one and all were invited to join in the dance and let off steam under the guidance of the dancers.
Hans-Peter Metternich - WZ. 9th May, 2000