“Hungarian Legend” by NBSO

Karolina Tima Szabó

On this pleasant May Sunday I almost overdosed on Music, if that is possible.  At the Congregational Church, Trumbull, CT, following the religious service, Trumbull Congregational Church Music Ministry presented an Organ Concert.  It featured Stephen Price, Professor of Organ at Ball State University, Muncie, IN, and Justine Stephens, Flutist from New York City, and Ilana Ofgang, Voice.  Beside the concert, what was important is that the A. B. Felgemaker organ is listed with the Organ Historical Society, installed in 1890 at the church.

But I want to tell you about the second concert I attended with a friend in New Britain.  The concert was the last in the season of The New Britain Symphony Orchestra, titled “Hungarian Legend” under the direction of Maestro Ertan Seyyar Sener.

The concert featured the music of three Hungarian composers, Liszt Ferenc – Mazeppa, Kodály Zoltán – Summer Evening, and Bartók Béla - Concerto for Orchestra.

Mazeppa is a symphonic poem (one of 12 or 13?) written by Franz Liszt in 1851 in Weimar.  The poem is about a Polish nobleman, Ivan Mazeppa, who fell in love with the wife of a count.  After being discovered, he was tied to a wild horse and chased out into the desert.  Mazeppa wound up in Ukraine, his horse collapsed, he himself was half dead, and was rescued by a Cossack.  He stayed with them, fought with them against the Russians, and later became their military leader.  The story of Mazeppa also inspired Victor Hugo’s Les Orientales.

Liszt originally composed the piece for bass voice, men’s chorus and piano.  The New Britain orchestra’s strings, bassoon, horn, and trumpets well expressed the steppes, the injured horse, and the triumphant return of Mazeppa.

Closest to my heart was Kodály Zoltán’s Nyári este (Summer Evening). He wrote this piece in 1906, and revised it at the suggestion of Arturo Toscanini in 1929.  It was performed by the Boston Symphony orchestra, conducted by Toscanini in 1930.  This is the version that is performed today.  

The piece carries no particular program.  Kodály noted simply that "it was conceived on summer evenings, amid harvested cornfields, by the ripples of the Adriatic."  It is soft and peaceful, first string, then oboe solo, flute solo, violin solo, followed by a full orchestra.

Bartók Béla is one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. The Concerto for Orchestra was his first and last major work.  It was commissioned by the great conductor Serge Koussevitzky for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  He was hospitalized at the time, and refused at first, thinking he was just kind to him.  Koussevitzky left the fee by his bedside.  So Bartók did it and finished it in a short eight weeks.  It was performed by the Boston S.O. in 1944.  The Concerto consists of five movements, Introduction, Games (Presentation) of the Couples, Elegia, Interrupted Intermezzo and Finale.  It is considered “brilliant, breathtaking music: thus, does Bartók at once pay homage to his homeland, and salute the great Johann Sebastian Bach.”

The concert ended with an encore, lighter music, Brahms’ 5th Hungarian dances.

Although Bartók’s music is heavy for me, unless it is a collection of the Hungarian Folk Songs, it was a great performance by the New Britain Symphony Orchestra, and a pleasant way to spend the afternoon with a friend.

Karolina Tima Szabo is a retired Systems Analyst of the Connecticut Post newspaper and Webmaster of Magyar News Online.  She is the proud grandmother of two.