The Katona Twins

Concert date: 17 September 2021
Reviewed by: JRC

The Katona Twins: From Bach to Beatles

There were two very welcome returns to The Courtenay Centre last Friday: Live music, and the very International Katona Twins returning to open nadsa concerts' season.
The Twins 2014 concert had been so well received they were booked to perform for nadsa's 75th Birthday season, which, due to covid 19, had been delayed by a year.

The Katona Twins programme was all new to us, but maintained their hallmark of variety across time and styles. Their title 'From Bach to Beatles' covered the chronology, but did not encompass the breadth of musical genres they performed.

What a splendid opener was J S Bach's French Suite No 5 of four traditional dances, arranged by the Katona Twins. The Allemande was light, bright and had clarity of direction, the Courante was vibrant and vivacious, whereas the Sarabande held us in an elegantly stately poise, before the Gigue's lively chase of virtuosity.

Zoltan Katona then played Agustin Barrios Mangore's Vals Op8 No 3. The melody soon became haunting and, with the romantic style and sensitively executed rubatos, it became obvious why Mangore could be considered the 'Chopin of the guitar'.

Peter Katona's Tarrega for Two drew spontaneous applause after the Capricho Arabe. It had started with delicacy, but ended with virtuosity and flamboyant rubatos. The Alhambra Inspiration had me floating kite-like over the Moorish castles, only to be brought back to earth by the 'Nokia tune' of the Gran Vals which, in Peter's arrangement and the twins jolly-romp performance, should be added to the list of Wiki's Best-known bagatelles.

Nuages, by Django Reinhardt, brought a complete change of mood and style. The Hungarian-born German Liverpudlian twins, seated relaxedly playing Afro-American inspired jazz composed by a Belgian Romani-Frenchman, brought home to me the universality of music!
Then, on their feet for Reinhardt's Minor Swing, improvisations passed from one to the other in an intensity of gripping interaction. Their performance spared us from the overt posturing which so often is the accompanying package of jazz performances. Hurrah, for just the Music!

Peter Katona's The Scandal followed. This is part of Peter's Karamazov Suite which was inspired by Dostoyevsky's last novel, The Brothers Karamazov, and showcased the Katona's skill at dramatic musical narrative. Their dialogue developed into antagonism and an animalistic stand-off. A pause held an electric silence, a sure sign the audience was gripped.

Mangore's Julia Florida was another abrupt change of mood for Peter's solo. He took it a tad faster than I was anticipating for what gets described as a barcarolle, but delicate rubatos brought this highly romantic piece to heartfelt life.

Bela Bartok's Six Romanian Folk Dances provided an opportunity to indulge ourselves with frivolity, variety and panache.

Then back to Bach with his Sinfonia from Cantata BWV29 which was written for an organ and orchestra. We heard the Katona Twins' arrangement for their two guitars. Somehow they preserved the keyboard nature and grandeur of this work: a very successful transcription.

Being residents of Liverpool, it was fitting that the Katonas ended their programme with arrangements of four Lennon-McCartney songs: Eleanor Rigby, Penny Lane, The Fool On The Hill, and Come Together.

For an encore we had the Katona's arrangement of Isaac Albéniz's Mallorca: meticulously executed and wonderfully calming.

Anyone planning a concert programme could learn much from the Katona Twins in terms of variety, placing of content and the manner of presentation. Their technical skills would be hard to emulate: they employ breath-taking pianissimos, declamatory fortes, sensitive rubatos and dramatic percussive effects together with virtuosity and an extraordinary rapport. Their skill at transposition and sensitive performance enables just two guitars to stand in for organs, orchestras and swing bands.
I hope we will hear them again in Newton Abbot before a lapse of another seven years.

NADSA Concert, Friday 17th September 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.