Although folk music has always proved a source of inspiration for classical music, in 1950s Hungary its use was pretty much compulsory. Even so, Ligeti's Romanian Concerto - inspired partly by childhood memories of a group of musicians wearing animal masks bursting into the family courtyard with an explosion of strange sounds and garish colours - displeased the censors for being too dissonant. It starts simply, with lush string sonorities, but the textures thin out in the later movements, growing in strangeness and culminating in the eerie colloquy between the two horns and solo violin.
Nowadays, the concerto is among Ligeti's most frequently played works, but seldom is it performed in a context that sheds further light on the folk traditions behind it. In this respect, this concert, curated and conducted by Andre de Ridder and featuring the BBC Concert Orchestra alongside Synergy Vocals and the quirky, pioneering American folk duo A Hawk and A Hacksaw, was a signal triumph in the way it interspersed the Ligeti and two of Bartok's folk-inspired classics - Three Village Scenes and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta - with Hungarian and Romanian folk songs. The orchestra played with passion and precision throughout, producing something special for the second Bartok piece.
A Hawk and A Hacksaw - accordionist Jeremy Barnes and violinist and singer Heather Trost - were partnered by the Hungarian cimbalom player, Unger Balazs, and were at their best in the simple Romanian folk song arrangements, notably of the wistful Marikam, Marikam, and of the frenetic Ciocarlia (The Skylark), made famous by Enescu's first Romanian Rhapsody and Emir Kusturica's film Underground. Less successful were the orchestral arrangements, which seemed to lack depth when set beside Bartok and Ligeti, and suffered from problems of balance and synchronisation. Still, this was a praiseworthy effort and a fascinating concert.
Broadcast on Radio 3 on 6 June.