Saturday, 19 April 2008

The full Monti

In 2000 I spent a highly convivial evening at a restaurant in Prague, towards the end of which we asked the little orchestra to play the finest piece of Hungarian music ever to be written by an Italian: Vittorio Monti's Csárdás, published around 1904 and played frequently ever since by gypsy orchestras and every other kind of musical ensemble. The musicians at this restaurant were probably asked for it at least once a week but were quite happy to play it again and bring us all to our feet.

I looked the other day for a reminder of the evening to replace my old 10-inch 78rpm record of it (you know, black disk with a hole in the centre). There are fifty versions offered on YouTube but although no version of this classic piece can be totally without merit (except perhaps for the one of an infant singing German words to it, and another of a woman yodelling it), it was not too difficult to choose one.

For this kind of music, feeling for the idiom is more important than classical skill; Yehudi Menuhin, after some joint recitals with Stéphane Grappelli, said of him: "He plays the twiddly bits better than I do". So I rejected Nigel Kennedy and all those those whose names didn't suggest any claim to gipsy or at least Hungarian blood. This ruled out offerings by the United States Navy Band, Royal Danish Brass, Hørsholm Percussion & Marimba Ensemble, the Black Dyke Mills Band, and James Last.

Csárdás was written for violin and piano so I was not keen to have it on cembalom, accordeon, cornet or harmonica. In the end I settled for a version in iTunes which sounded much like my old recording. It is by The Mazmanians, who are a family of Armenian origin very popular in California who seem to me to get it just right. Anyway, it's a good 79p worth.

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