jueves, septiembre 27, 2007

Ars Hungarica: a fit homage to Kodály

For years Ars Hungarica has done stalwart work helping the public to know the rich musical heritage of Hungary. As its Artistic Director, Sylvia Leidemann has applied her multiple talents as interpreter (conducting and playing) and musicologist (numerous study trips have had as a result the resurrection of valuable old scores) to the cause of her ancestors' music. In recent years there have been landmarks such as the recording of "Harmonia Coelestis" by Prince Esterházy or the premiere of some Liszt Masses. Dr. Miklós Székessy has been a conscientious and firm President of the institution.

In a further sense Ars Hungarica has shown amplitude of spirit: it has collaborated with the Embassies of various European countries (with, of course, the support of the Hungarian Embassy) so as to give joint panoramas of their musical art, not only with frontier countries such as Romania but also remoter ones such as Finland (with whom Hungary however shares a linguistic group). This year they presented a conspectus of sixteenth-seventeenth century Polish music and eighteenth-century Hungarian music at the ideal venue of the Museo de Arte Decorativo's main hall, warm and beautiful. About 50 artists were led by Leidemann with her usual care, knowledge and intensity, and they included the Chamber Choir of Ars Hungarica, the Choir of the Argentine/Polish Association, the Rosario Baroque Orchestra, a group of vocal soloists featuring sopranos Marcela Sotelano and Silvina Sadoly and some invited players, notably the Hungarian trumpetist Gábor Hegyi.

From Poland we heard works from Mikolaj Gomulka (1535-91), some sincere and simple psalms (choir, trombones and cornetto); Marcin Mielczewski (1590-1651), a canzona on the Giovanni Gabrieli mold for 2 violins, dulzian (a soft-timbred old type of oboe) and continuo, and a splendid Psalm 112 ("Laudate pueri Dominum"), for six vocal soloists, six-part choir, trombones, dulzian, strings and continuo; and Damian Stachowicz (1658-99), expressive "Litaniae de Beata Virgine" for vocal quartet, choir, trumpets, strings and continuo, and a brilliant hymn, "Veni Consolator", for soprano (Sadoly), trumpet (Hegyi) and continuo (the latter a particularly good performance). From Hungary, fragments from the only extant work of Johann Patzelt (whose dates are unknown), his school opera for a Jesuitic school "Castor et Pollux" (in latin), from 1743, nice Baroque music; and finally, from Benedikt Istvanffy (1733-78) , the offertory "Veni Sancte Spiritus"

crowned by a vigorous Alleluia, typical Classicist sacred music. The interpretative level was generally high, apart from some blemishes of intonation.

A very different but even more important concert was the homage to Zoltan Kodály which took place at the Auditorio de Belgrano commemorating the 125th anniversary of his birth. Although Béla Bartók is better known and certainly the greater composer (an absolutely essential personality of powerful originality and influence), Kodály is also very important and still underappreciated here. Under the auspices of the Hungarian Ministry of Culture and Education and the International Kodály Society Foundation, the occasion allowed the hearers to have a useful and valuable cross-section of the creator's work in several genres. Kodály joined his friend Bartók in the painstaking field recollection at the beginning of the twentieth century of hundreds upon hundreds of recordings done with cumbersome equipment of the true Magyar folklore in song and dance, thus setting at rest the erroneous identification of Gypsy Hungarian music with the authentic folk idiom of the country. Much of this material was eventually harmonized by them in wonderful examples of adaptation to academic language keeping the original flavor. Kodály was also a seminal figure as a teacher, and his choral music is extensive and fundamental for the growth of different types of choirs in Hungary.

The programme started with three choruses by the reinforced Ars Hungarica Choir, who was in fine fettle, accurate and intense. The funny and fast "The gypsy eats curd", "The peacock takes flight" (on which Kodály based his admirable "Variations on the peacock song" for orchestra), a poetic, refined piece; and the variegated "Scenes from the Mátra region", quite difficult in its contrasts.

Then, a series of pieces sung by tenor Jószef Csák, from the Budapest Opera, a veteran artist of vast experience . He certainly knows the style although the voice is rather hard. He was accompanied rather dully by Daniel Trufero. We heard two songs transcribed from folk material, a song from the folk opera "The knitting room " ("Székelyfonó"), and two from the opera "Háry János", "Recruitment" and "Toast", both full of character.

The First Part closed with the adventurous Sonata for cello and piano, well played by pianist Lucas Urdampilleta but rather weakly by cellist Martín Devoto.

The Orchestra of Ars Hungarica numbered 45 and was generally good and enthusiastic . Apart from a bad horn croak, the playing in the "Dances from Galánta" was full of charm and rhythm under the idiomatic conducting of Sylvia Leidemann. Unfortunately Hungary lost big chunks of its historic territory after World War I, among them Galánta, currently a part of Slovakia.

The concert ended with what is probably Kodály's greatest score, the "Psalmus Hungaricus", tragic and with a profound national feeling. It is based on David's Psalm 55 as adapted in the sixteenth century by Mihály Vég Kecskeméti. Written in 1923, full of grief and rebellion, it was offered with true conviction by Csák, the choir and orchestra, all led with fervor and high attainment by Leidemann.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald


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