Review: Sondorgo @ Bishopsgate Institute (London, 28th November 2014)

Within few minutes of the doorman closing the doors Bishopsgate Institute was transported to the main square of the small Hungarian town of Szentendre during the annual Festival. The main event’s star performers were three brothers, Áron, Benjamin and Dávid Eredics, one of their cousins Salamon Eredics and one of their best friends Attila Buzás. Together they form one of the most intoxicating Hungarian acts, Söndörgö. The band needed just that short interval to set the imaginary square on fire and set the audience to ‘dance mode’. They then embraced their tamburas (long-necked lutes) to season the evening with unmistakable Hungarian flavours. That is the power of this ensemble from Szentendre, which dragged their luggage full of traditional South Slavic harmonies and breakneck-speed rhythms to London for a one-off gig.

Without a word the quintet called the shots and showed what were they made of. ‘Majka Kceru’ introduced the performance and immediately revealed the exuberant polyphonic style that characterizes Söndörgö’s singing. The musicians’ earthy look reinforced by their rustic costumes encouraged the audience to concentrate on their performance. That inspired decision ensured that the music played by the band was glorious throughout the two-hour gig.

The debut was monopolised by stringed-instruments – three tamburas, one guitar and one double bass ruled the scene during the first songs ‘Tonči’, ‘Sinoč’ and ‘Kolovodja’. But it was the smiles on the artists’ faces that were the main feature of the band. The musicians’ joy soon became contagious, infecting the audience and making their working-day rigidity a vague memory: everybody followed the music.

In the song ‘Hulušination’ the band changed instruments, varying the already rich musical texture by adding screaming brass, boisterous percussion, accordion sounds and an exotic Chinese flute. Solos, duets and a comic altercation between instruments expressed the superb musicianship of the protagonists, who literally enthralled the audience playing with their skills. Despite the impressive technical skill the audience never felt overawed as the players mirrored one another in an expression of intimate and heartfelt cohesion.

The band’s set list included band’s latest works Tamburocket and Tamburising, while simultaneously referring to the long-established tradition from which they took inspiration and with a real diversity to their arrangements. When the songs ‘Jozo’ and ‘Jova’ rapidly followed one another they brought a definitive upbeat mood to the evening as the audience jumped to their feet, clapping their hands in (and at times out) of tempo. But as the tempos were so fast and the rhythms so lively it was impossible for the listeners to escape the overwhelming draw of the tunes!

The last notes of the show continued with the breathless tempos, boosting the musical offerings with gypsy and byzantine themes and textures. ‘Cigan čica’ and ‘Sa’ that resonated with our souls made rhythmical way for the final and glorious encore, ‘Landing čoček’. The song evoked the many faces and characteristics of the ensemble – the Hungarian, Croatian, Serbian, Balkan and the Turkish influences. The characteristics of the tambura, clarinet and accordion were enhanced and finally the whole show went out in style with a triumphant standing ovation from the audience.

Söndörgö proved that tradition and folklore could entertain and amuse with no effort. Stray off the beaten path and you will find musical cultures to interest and captivate even the most refined palate with ease. Thanks to the passion and devotion the group feels towards their homeland tradition they hypnotised their audience and introduced them to a secluded music style which cannot be heard anywhere else.

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