Russian-Gypsy Extravaganza

Camelot Lounge, August 17 

Eddie res
Eddie Bronson and Anatoli Torjinski.

The Russians are the tsars of musical melancholy. From Tchaikovsky to Shostakovich they create sadness so deep as to drown you; so lush as to be sentimental were it not underpinned by an expression of raw suffering. The composers absorbed it from folk music, of course: music that is an articulation of the same rich culture that spawned Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekov and Chagall.

Some of the music in this extravaganza did tip over into sentimentality and, for the Russian-Australian audience, nostalgia. More often it moved or uplifted, and the involvement of Eddie Bronson ensured that sheer heart was in abundant supply. It spilled from his tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone and clarinet in great waves that periodically picked the music up and hurled it to another level.

The three-hour show may have been centred on Russian folk music, but it ranged to Astor Piazzolla, Schubert, Brahms and Mozart as well as the more expected Scriabin and Rimsky-Korsakov. Anatoli Torjinski, a cellist with a sumptuous sound (and a handy pianist and guitarist) coordinated the passing parade of such exceptional musicians as accordionist Leonid Beshlei and violinist Leo Novikov, with drummer Leon Miller competing the core band. Then there was the rousing Volatinsky Trio in which Torjinski was joined by Lucy Voronov (cimbalom) and Stephen Lalor (guitar).

Opera singer Gennadi Dubinksy’s magnificent bass voice rumbled over If I Were A Rich Man (in which the band was under-rehearsed), swelled to massive size on Old Man River and delivered a Dark Eyes to stand out among a thousand others, with Bronson’s tenor incandescent. Soprano Larisa Kovalchuk accompanied herself on the Ukrainian bandura, a 65-string harp-like instrument that brought Russia and Ukraine together, at least on one side of the world. Finally the earthy-voiced Rita Kagan stormed through a string of Russian songs as well as Bei Mir Bistu Schein and Hava Nagila L. Across the night the music wavered from high art to variety show, but was never less than entertaining.