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FOUR FROM HUNGARY:

RUMBLIN’ ORCHESTRA:

            SPARTACUS (Periferic BGCD 022) [1998]

            THE KING’S NEW GARMENT (Periferic BGCD 060) [2000]

LAREN D’OR:

            WAR OF ANGELS (Periferic BGCD 010) [1997]

FORCE MAJEURE:

            TOTAL ECLIPSE (Periferic BGCD 038) [1999]

JULIUS DOBOS:

            MOUNTAIN FLYING (Periferic BGCD 051) [1999]

Gergely Boszormenyi has been building his Periferic Records into a major force in Hungarian music – and especially so in Hungary’s progressive rock community. In addition to After Crying (extensively reviewed elsewhere here) and Solaris (whom I will be reviewing here sooner or later), he has released the albums listed above, and has in addition been the tour manager for Solaris and After Crying on their American appearances (during both of which I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with him).   A busy man.

It was during the Solaris tour that Gergely (or Gregory) pressed a copy of the Rumblin’ Orchestra’s SPARTACUS on me. I’d just gotten out of treatment for a broken hip suffered in a fall two weeks earlier, and I showed up at the Solaris concert with a walker, grateful for the opportunity to be out of institutionalized care and doing something I wanted to be doing.   When I got home I played the CD and had mixed feelings about it, but I couldn’t be sure then how much my reactions were colored by my physical circumstances.

My acquisition, a year later, of the band’s second album, THE KING’S NEW GARMENT, redirected my attention to SPARTACUS and Rumblin’ Orchestra. A second album meant it was time to consider the band more seriously. 

 Well, to begin with the band has a terrible name.   I have no idea what its connotations are in Hungary, to non-English speakers, but it has put off everyone with whom I’ve discussed it here. Bad enough, the consensus has it, to call the band the Rumbling Orchestra, but to then clip off the final “g” and replace it with an apostrophe – what’s that all about? Is this some sort of approximation of an American dialect?   And if so, why? The name unfortunately prejudices the prospective audience against the band.

On the other hand, this band appears to be a family – and a remarkably orchestral one, too. The band’s leader, composer and arranger is Bela Ella, who plays keyboards. All but drummer Jusztin Szabo are members of the Ella family: Daniel Ella plays oboe, Beatrix Ella plays flute, Miklos Ella plays violin, Kitti Ella plays cello, and Attila Ella plays trombone. Guest musicians (different on each album) add guitar, trumpets, sax and vocals. There is additionally a chorus of four to eight singers (which, on the second album includes two of the band members, Bela and Jusztin).

 With an instrumental lineup like that the result is predictably orchestral:   a rich, symphonic sound with oboes and flutes soaring over a lush backing of actual and synthesized strings. The pieces range from relatively short bits to long suites, and the albums are generous with their time: SPARTACUS runs over 62 minutes and THE KING’S NEW GARMENT runs over 72 minutes.   The music itself draws on a variety of influences, from the usual progressive sort to Broadway show music (ranging from Bernstein’s “America,” which is performed as a 10 minute “bonus track” on the first album, to Gershwin).   And Bela Ella has obviously listened to Keith Emerson. But in places the music is almost too sweet, and rather Enid-like. Yet it rewards one’s attention with many clever compositional turns.

 Bela Ella is to be commended for creating a band which has an instrumental approach similar to that of After Crying, but which plays its own sort of music and makes no attempt to copy After Crying. I don’t think his level of ambition is quite as high, but his music has its own virtues.

But if you are looking for more music like After Crying’s, Rumblin’ Orchestra will disappoint you.   The musical sensibilities are quite different. This is Romantic music, in the 19th Century sense. While European in its approach it ignores the minor-key, melancholy Hungarian folk melodies which underlie Bartok and After Crying. I like it, but not as much.

All of the albums reviewed on this page are “orchestral” in approach: they have a rich, symphonic sound. But WAR OF ANGELS is blurbed as “synth-phonic,” because it is entirely the work of one man on synthesizers.   “Laren d’Or” is actually Attila Heger, and he composed and performed the over-61 minute album as a solo project.     Its pieces range from three minutes long to 10, 11 and 13 minutes. What they have in common is a foundation in the same processes and melodic ideas which Mike Oldfield used for his original “Tubular Bells.” What they lack is the hooks Oldfield employed; they are not as memorable. However, this is music which caresses the senses.

On the other hand, TOTAL ECLIPSE’s Force Majeure is a duo of synthesizer players: Laszlo Kovacs (synthesizers & computers) and Zsolt Vidovenyecz (synthesizers). None of this album’s 12 tracks run over seven minutes and many aren’t half that long; the album as a whole runs just under 50 minutes. “The music of Force Majeure is a continuation of the synthesizer music of the ‘70s and the ‘80s. The music helps you rise above monotonous daily routine, and to sense the power, the harmony and the beauty of Nature,” according to the liner notes. The album concerns itself with the total eclipse of the sun which was seen across Europe on August 11, 1999, and seeks to “convey the atmosphere of the solar eclipse” rather than any specific events. The music itself is reminiscent of late-‘70s Tangerine Dream: mood evoking, but curiously insubstantial.

Much more substantial is Julius Dobos’ MOUNTAIN FLYING. This album originally existed in demo form as a synthesizer album as well, but Dobos conceived of it as an orchestral work, and After Crying’s Peter Pejtsik orchestrated it for the North Hungarian Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Laszlo Kovacs (who may or may not be the same person who is in Force Majeure).

 

Here’s how the album is described on Dobos’ website: “Mountain Flying is probably Julius Dobos’ largest work. He recorded it with the 80-piece North Hungarian Symphony Orchestra, the 50-voice Monteverdi Choir, several artists, and Grammy Award winner Martha Sebestyén, using very special synth-sounds. The final version of Mountain Flying … took two years to write and 6 months to orchestrate, record and mix. This masterpiece contains Hollywood filmscore-like pure symphonic adventure music, elemental effects with orchestra and synths, monumental choir and orchestra combinations spiced with ethnic instruments, solo female voices and a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Although each track has its own story, Mountain Flying is united by the returning main theme, and totals 65 minutes of listening pleasure.”

In other words, this album’s music is fully orchestrated, with added synthesizer flourishes. It is pretty much as described, but I could easily have done without the recitation of Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” (in English) by Patrick McMullan (an Irish expatriate who ended up in Hungary and collaborated with Peter Pejtsik on at least two albums there, one of them by “The Irish Rovers of Budapest”). The spoken word rarely enhances my enjoyment of any album of music after one or two listenings

Dobos does film music for a living. All three albums – WAR OF ANGELS, TOTAL ECIPSE and MOUNTAIN FLYING – could be film soundtracks. Each has a cinematic approach. Each also veers close to New Age music – although more in the blurbs I’ve quoted than in the music itself – and each of the three can be described as warm and melodic.

But PERIFERIC 2000 ("Sympho-Rock from Hungary") (BGCD 053) offers two tracks by Rumblin' Orchestra, one by Julius Dobos (credited as "Dobos Gyula"), one by Laren d'Or, and one by Force Majeure (as well as three by After Crying) on a 16-track, nearly 73 minute CD which gives a good overview of a variety of other Periferic bands and albums (not all of them actually "sympho-rock," however). By all the evidence, the music scene in Hungary is burgeoning and definitely worth following in times to come.    I recommend the PERIFERIC 2000 sampler as an excellent place to start; it offers opportunities to make up your own mind about the albums reviewed above and a number of others as well.

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