FRANZ LISZT: Christus – oratorio
Zita Váradi, Ágnes Szalai soprano
Atala Schöck alto
Tibor Szappanos tenor
János Fátrai baritone
Miklós Sebestyén bass
Szent István Philharmonic
Hungarian National Choir (choirmaster: Csaba Somos)
Children’s Choir of the Zoltán Kodály Hungarian Choral School (choirmaster: Ferenc Sapszon, Borbála Sapszon)
Conductor: Csaba Somos
Although the Christus oratorio is Liszt’s greatest work and enormous in its significance, its massive scope, the scale of the forces it requires and the remarkable efforts needed to perform it all conspire to ensure that it is heard only rarely. Now is the occasion: the audience will get to enjoy this extraordinary work, performed by the Hungarian National Choir and the Szent István Philharmonic, together with some outstanding Hungarian soloists and all under the baton of choirmaster Csaba Somos – 150 years after the November 1873 Hungarian premiere that took place at the exact same venue, the Vigadó Concert Hall.
Liszt began work on this grand oratorio in 1855, but did not complete his magnum opus until 1867. Of the works in the music literature that deal with the life of Christ, one major type deals with the theme of his birth, and the other with his death on the cross. The first group is comprised of such works as the Christmas oratorios by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, Heinrich Schütz, Bach and Saint-Saëns, while the second includes the Passions of Bach, Handel, Telemann, Krzysztof Penderecki, Arvo Pärt and Péter Zombola. What makes Liszt’s Christus oratorio unusual is the way that it draws its theme from the Saviour’s entire life, including both his birth and death as a single unity. In this regard, it is Handel’s Messiah that can be regarded as its closest predecessor. The oratorio consists of three parts: Christmas Oratorio, After Epiphany and Passion and Resurrection. The vocal soloists taking the stage on this occasion – Zita Váradi, Ágnes Szalai, Atala Schöck, Tibor Szappanos, János Fátrai and Miklós Sebestyén – are all singers who are as sensitive to Liszt’s mature style as they are to the spirituality of religious oratorios. Serving as the orchestra for the work is a superb guest ensemble: the Szent István Philharmonic. The conductor for the production, Csaba Somos, has headed the Hungarian National Choir since January 2016.
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