Artistic Director: István Pál Szalonna
Choreographers: Gyӧrgy Áfalvi, Gábor Mihályi, Orza Calin and Zoltan Zsuráfszky Jr.
More than perhaps any other venue in London, Sadler’s Wells can consider itself a world stage; often within the same week you can see Spanish Flamenco, hip hop from East London and contemporary dance from the Netherlands. For the Jubilee bank holiday, Hungarian folk music is the star in a celebratory concert that promotes the musicians from their usual place in the pit and gives them the whole stage as Liszt Mosaics charts the influence of Hungarian folk on the classical composition of Bartók before focusing on dance and Liszt in the second and third parts of an enjoyable evening.
Members of the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble Orchestra clearly could not be happier to be performing in the UK, led by Artistic Director István Pál Szalonna whose beaming smile never falters across the 65-minutes of Act I. The purpose is to demonstrate how folk influenced orchestral music – a theme theatre fans will recognise from Nell Leyshon’s Folk at the Hampstead Theatre – by performing traditional pieces from Hungary and Transylvania that have a jaunty energy as fast-paced violins mix with pipes and Eszter Pál’s vocal to create warmth and light with pieces you could easily imagine being performed at country festivals, in cosy inns and even sound akin to sea shanties.
This is contrasted with Bartók works performed by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra playing rhapsodic, sweeping and emotional works that clearly borrow from the rhythmic flourishes and style of the folk music that precedes it. By interspersing the formal and informal styles, the show makes a strong argument for these interwoven art forms, not least in the stunning violin solos of Canadian Alexandre Da Costa, especially in Violin Rhapsody Number 2 that is piercingly intense, building to an eventual combination of the two orchestras led by István Pál Szalonna and Oleg Caetani, the Royal Philharmonic’s Italian conductor.
Part II is an unexpected contrast with dance numbers performed to music by Liszt that combines traditional folk dance with contemporary styles and visual effects choreographed by Gyӧrgy Áfalvi, Gábor Mihályi, Orza Calin and Zoltan Zsuráfszky Jr. These are stridently male affairs; they seek attention in their formation with noisy slaps to boot and thigh, punctuated by claps and stamps that mark their dominance. The women are there to serve, support and look feminine but never take on any agency in the dances that do not translate and distinguish their role in the story.
Based around live music performances including further violin and piano solos and the choral interludes that slow the pace, Gyӧrgy Árvai’s design is certainly impactful if a little redundant. A collection of tall light boxes the size of filing cabinets, are manoeuvred around the stage, lent over and given some opaque ceremonial status. It creates interesting pictures, but these props become a distraction where dance could be used to fill the space instead and Liszt Mosaics is at its best when the company just perform extended sequences of movement.
A second interval extends the show to three hours and ten minutes with Part III offering more of the same and although the female dancers temporarily have more control, having been starved of Hungarian folk in the UK Liszt Mosaics leaves you a little overfed. Not part of Sadler’s Wells in-house scheduled programme, the show, nonetheless, proves a fascinating approach to performance that combines music, singing and dance in an international collaborative project that suggests the venue might make room for more.
Reviewed on 3 June 2022