ANTONIN DVOŘÁK: The Spectre’s Bride
Pavla Vykopalova soprano
Richard Samek tenor
Svatopluk Sem bass baritone, narrator
Hungarian National Choir (choirmaster: Csaba Somos)
Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Tomáš Brauner
It is exciting to think that even the great composers have left us works that are still waiting to be discovered. At the age of 43, Dvořák, the composer of the New World Symphony and the Cello Concerto, wrote a Romantic cantata entitled The Spectre’s Bride, a work that has not yet become part of the repertoire in Hungary, presumably because of the difficulties presented by the Czech-language libretto. This performance by the Hungarian National Choir and the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, which employs Czech soloists and a Czech conductor, will introduce us to the beauty of the composition.
In 1883, Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904) was commissioned to write a large-scale oratorio by the Birmingham Triennial Musical Festival. After initially considering adapting the stories of Saint Wenceslaus or Jan Hus, he eventually settled on Karel Jaromír Erben’s ballad The Spectre’s Bride. The composition work lasted from April to November 1884, and the success of the performance in Birmingham, which took place in August 1885 with the mobilisation of mammoth forces (a 400-strong choir and a 150-member orchestra), exceeded all expectations. The story that forms the basis of this dramatic cantata, which consists of an introduction and 18 sections, dovetails well with the 19th-century imagination as it relates the otherworldly wedding of a bride and her dead groom. A nocturnal setting, a cemetery, graves, the spirits of the dead and an open coffin: the ballad’s motifs include all the essential elements of a Romantic ghost story. Together with Prague-based conductor Tomáš Brauner, the three Czech soloists – Pavla Vykopalova, Richard Samek and Svatopluk Sem – featured in this Czech-language performance by the Hungarian National Choir (choirmaster: Csaba Somos) and the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra guarantee the authenticity of the interpretation in both linguistic and stylistic terms.
Emerging from under the shadow of the coronavirus epidemic, this season has finally provided us with a calmer and more predictable environment, allowing the large-scale concerts by the Hungarian National Choir to successfully take place at last. Incorporating your feedback, we wish to continue our efforts to present our ensemble in the most diverse possible fashion next season as well.
The first of this series of four concerts will feature Liszt’s most significant work: one that exceeds the boundaries of a standard oratorio. The Christus oratorio is a gigantic work covering the entire liturgical year, with a symphonic orchestra, the soloists and, of course, the choir each playing a huge role. I myself have been preparing to conduct this masterpiece for decades, so it is a great honour to be able to take the stage in the company of such wonderful ensembles as the Hungarian National Choir and the Szent István Philharmonic. Incidentally, this performance is taking place in the Pesti Vigadó, the same venue where the work received its Hungarian première, almost 150 years to the date after that event.
The second concert in our season ticket series promises to be a true musical and acoustic experience, as on this evening we will be singing Rachmaninov’s a cappella cycle Vespers. Since the work calls for unusual voice types (such as contrabasses), we are glad to be able to employ the special abilities of our ensemble.
Conducting this concert will be the Netherlands Radio Choir’s talented young choirmaster, Benjamin Goodson.
After several years of planning, it is a great pleasure for us to finally be able to present Dvořák’s rarely heard Czech-language cantata The Spectre’s Bride. The singers performing the fairy-tale ballad under the baton of Tomáš Brauner are all excellent artists from the Czech Republic.
The final concert of the Pászti season ticket series concludes our musical journey with a programme of Hungarian music. This evening affords us the opportunity to hear Zoltán Kodály’s singspiel The Spinning Room in concert version. Partnering with the Hungarian National Choir yet again will be the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, which is celebrating its centenary.
On behalf of my fellow artists and myself, I warmly welcome you to the Pászti subscription concerts for the 2023/24 season!
Choirmaster of the Hungarian National Choir