Ever since Taraf de Haïdouks burst out of Romania in the early 1990s, the 12-strong band of Gypsy lautari and their exuberant brand of traditional music has been a fixture on the world’s stages. But, rather than being ‘just’ another album of flamboyant tunes for accordions, violins and cimbaloms (this time with the Haïdouks’ first-ever female player, Virginica Dumitru), Maskarada is an album with a much-needed twist: re-Gypsification.
This may sound like a postmodern gimmick, but it’s not. Well aware that there is a long history of composers importing ‘Gypsy’ music into the classical tradition, the Haïdouks have used much of Maskarada to bring the music home. It’s an astoundingly original idea and it’s one that poses an intriguing dynamic. Bartok, de Falla and Khachaturian all succumb to the re-Gypsification treatment with a good grace that doesn’t result in some strange hybrid of orchestral sugariness and cod virtuosity. The band’s re-reinterpretation of the Romanian Folk dances that Bartok adapted have here a sombre, drunken elegance more suited to village square than concert hall. On Maskarada, the tunes are reunited with their original purpose. The tunes in ‘Suite Maskarada’, the finale, are very much of the Haïdouks’ creation, but they have a playful relationship to the album’s mission of de-classicalization, as the themes turn from formal statement to improvisational flourish. To say that that this album represented the return of the repressed would not be too far from the truth.