Tickets and Information: 202-625-2361

Embassy of Poland- Great Singers from Poland and Hungary

By Stephen Neal Dennis

The European art song is a fairly exotic speciality for trained singers and appreciative audiences.  It is not something the amateur high school coloratura can belt out on demand, as it requires finesse and a careful understanding of the tradition within which it exists and the conditions that permitted it to flower.  The steady technical development of the piano during the nineteenth century meant that suddenly any prosperous home might become a little concert hall for an evening or an afternoon.  The haute bourgeoisie of important cities could provide their guests moving renditions of intensely emotional songs which sometimes seemed very far from the artful simplicities of Schubert.

Baritone Jerome Barry, Artistic Director of the Embassy Series concerts, has been the teacher of many aspiring singers in the Washington area.  He therefore has a special knowledge of the art song across cultural traditions.  Barry, who delights in welcoming audiences or performers in any one of the major European languages, had put together a brilliant concept, a concert to be offered at both the Hungarian Embassy and the Polish Embassy, on successive evenings, to showcase an important Polish-born mezzo-soprano and an emerging Hungarian tenor.

Magdalena Wór and Szabolcs Brickner presented alternating sets of Polish or Hungarian art songs during the first half of their program, and then moved into more international waters, concluding with a dramatic fatal duet from Carmen.  Chopin’s art songs are something of a curiosity today, and one piano teacher stated what many in the audience had believed, that without an attribution in the program notes these songs could not have been attached to any famous name. Brickner sang all five of Bartok’s Five Hungarian Folk Songs, and Wor offered four lovely songs by Feliks Rybicki which have never been published but were sung with the permission of Rybicki’s family.  Magdalena Wór sings with a very strong mezzo-soprano voice and has a good stage presence.  Her expressive face became steadily more expressive as the dramatic character of the evening intensified toward the three final arias (and one encore) from Carmen.  Szabolcs Brickner sings with equal intensity, but has a less dramatic stage presence.

Embassy Series program notes are famous for being slightly disorganized, and Friday there were no notes for Ferenc Lehar’s famous “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz,” and no translation was provided for the first Carmen aria.

Printed at the back of the program was an initial listing of Embassy Series offerings for the coming season.  The good news for piano fans is that Hungarian pianist Ádám György, whose performance of a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody seemed to create enough heat to melt the part of Snowmageddon which had fallen on the blacked-out Hungarian Embassy in late January, will return to Washington under Embassy Series auspices next November.


Stephen Neal Dennis