Hungarian Music Seen in a New Light

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La Scena Musicale's Discovery Box

Hungarian music is part of my heritage,” says Sebastian Haboczki, a former member of the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal. “The music and the rhythms have been part of my being, part of my essence, since I was born.”

Not that you have to be Hungarian to enjoy the Music of Hungary concert given by this tenor on Oct. 5 at St. James United Church, with soprano Melissa McCann, violinist István Lakatos and pianist Paul Digout. The nation has always travelled well, musically and otherwise.

Repertoire is primarily vocal and possibly unfamiliar to those who have not, like Haboczki, earned a doctorate for a dissertation on Hungarian music.

The first part is given over to folk-song arrangements by Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967), a composer, ethnomusicologist and educator who did much to broaden and clarify the nature of Hungarian music and expand public consciousness of it beyond the clichés of the café.

“His piano accompaniments speak the harmonic and rhythmic language of the folk songs,” Haboczki says. “The French have their mélodies, the Germans their Lieder. Kodály did something akin to these for the Hungarian nation.”

Subjects include the mountains, military life, love and marriage. Haboczki shares duties with McCann, who, like the tenor, was a student of Canadian baritone Kevin MacMillan at James Madison University in Virginia. There might also be readings from Hungarian mythology. “I want to take people on a journey,” Haboczki says.

After intermission we hear songs by Franz Liszt, who was Hungarian by birth (and arguably by nature) but whose settings are of poetry in German, French and Italian; “Oh quand je dors” is the best known of this all-French set.

Lakatos, who appeared in a Gypsy program last May with I Musici de Montréal, learned this style of violin playing from his father, Ferenc Lakatos. István plays Hejre kati (a.k.a. Scènes de la Csárda No. 4, Op. 32) by violinist and composer Jenö Hubay (1858-1937) and the Valse triste of Hubay’s student Ferenc Vecsey (1893-1935).

Next come two arias from Hunyadi László, an opera on the subject of this heroic military figure by Ferenc Erkel, the 19th-century Hungarian composer after whom the No. 2 opera house in Budapest is named. The concert reaches a stirring conclusion with Erkel’s greatest hit, “Hazám, hazám” from the opera Bánk bán.

Music of Hungary is a presentation of the fledgling Kin Musical Adventure Series, the brainchild of Julius Frohlich. This entrepreneur and founder of the Language Research Development Group calls himself an amateur impresario with a special interest in contributing to the well-being of the community. Fittingly, about 250 tickets will be distributed to people who would not otherwise have access to concerts.

“Nothing would make me happier than to fill St. James United Church to capacity,” Frohlich says, “and to let the audience appreciation ring louder than the beautiful voices of the singers and the dulcet sounds of violin and piano.”

Music of Hungary takes places Oct. 5 at 7:30 at St James United Church, 463 St. Catherine St. W. Concert tickets cost $30 ($20 for students and seniors). Premium tickets include a cocktail and a meet-the-artist event. For more information, go to www.musicofhungary.com.

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About Author

Arthur Kaptainis has been a classical music critic since 1986. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Musical Toronto. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto.

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