Concert Review: Dutch Strings, Hammers, and Bows - Amsterdam's 'Di Fidl Kapelye' in NYC

by Roger Reid

Although the subject line brings to my mind an old Doris Day song, it was decidely NOT Ms Day last night at the NY Workmens Circle, but Di Fidl Kapelye, who were in town from the Netherlands to work with Deborah Strauss (may she live long!)

It was a delightful evening! They sound like nothing I've heard before, and while I can hear influences from their teachers - Alpert, Strauss, Bjorling, etc - they are clearly hewing their own sound from these sources. And it works, oh does it work.

Problem is I can't quite figure out how to describe the difference that is them. It is a deep lucious sound. The instrumentation is 2 fidls, a tsimbl (actually a small Rumanian ţambal), a bass AND a cello, with the bass occaisionally changing to oud. It has a conservatory air, it has a friends making music at home air, it has a klezmer air, it has a European air.

So we've got a lot of strings in a lot of registers. Now usually with two fidls you'd expect a primo and a secund. In this case, sometimes both were playing first violin. Call and response - done with a keen sensitivity passing between Madelien Verheij and Jiska ter Bals - sometimes outright counterpoint, no, not all that traditional but for these cats it works right in and can I suggest -it *sounds* like it ought to be traditional. Or sometimes they BOTH played secund. Mostly, the lead moved around, sometimes phrase by phrase, over to the talented and learned cimbalom player Pit "Maestro Piti the Singing Cimbalom Queen" Hermans, to the cello, beautifully held and sung through by Djoeke Klijzing, and to bass (and oud) player Gregor Shaeffer, who gets that great sawing bass sound. I thought he was doing the traditional 3 string bass but it turns out he had simply busted a string and was making do - quite well.

As a tsimbler I was interested to hear Pit Hermans and was enchanted. She has her own sound and touch, moving effortlessly among the patterns and chords, fills, echos, and leads. She also pulled off one of those intense Moskowitz solo tunes - again, not like Moskowitz, but in her own distict style. I bought the demo CD in part to be able to listen more to her, as I would like to emulate her style to some extent.

Gregors oud playing is enjoyable but sometimes seems a bit "apart" from what the group is doing. I wonder if they could integrate the oud more with the ensemble, perhaps in the manner that mandolin players can fit right in.

If you have a chance to catch these folks live (you lucky Europeans), you should. They do have a demo recording, which is good, but the live performance came through with a real energy that's hard to capture on a recording (just like the Grateful Dead).

I hope there will be more extensive US tours in their future.

Reviewed by Roger Reid, 20 Feb 04

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