The two parts of the programme reflected two aspects of Becza?a’s artistic persona. As an opera singer, he has sung in Italian, German, French, Russian, Czech and Polish. The Italian songs he chose for this occasion showed the dramatic possibilities in art song – art song for opera singers, vehicles for technique and expressiveness. The programme began with three songs from 36 Arie di stile antico by Stefano Donaudy (1879-1925), a Sicilian contemporary of Puccini’s, which were taken up soon after publication by singers like Caruso and Tito Schipa. Becza?a’s crisp diction made Freschi luoghi, prati aulenti sparkle, contrasting well with the darker O del mio amato ben. Followed by four songs from 8 rispetti by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948). Although Ottorino Respighi wrote operas, he also composed a substantial body of orchestral and chamber music. The songs on this programme thus represent an approach to art song which favours the more private, personal medium of voice and piano. The songs of Paolo Tosti (1846-1916)served as a bridge between Donaudy and Wolf-Ferrari and Respighi.
The second part of the programme focused on Becza?a’s Polish roots. Throughout his career, he has made a point of promoting Poland’s rich musical heritage. He sang The Shepherd in Karol Szymanowski’s KrÛl Roger in the 2003 Warsaw production, and has also done many of the composer’s songs for male voice. For this Wigmore Hall recital Becza?a chose Szymanowski’s Sze?? pie?ni (Six Songs), his op 2, completed when he was still a student, aged 18. Significantly, all are also settings of living poets, contemporaries of the composer. Although Szymanowski was to make his name as a cosmopolitan sophisticate, these songs show that his Polish identity went deep. The texts here were by Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer (1860-1940) . Przerwa-Tetmajer was both a nationalist and modernist, given that Secessionism and Symbolism were forces for renewal, all over Europe. Each of these poems is brief, but the imagery is so concentrated that meaning is left deliberately elusive. The first two songs, in a minor key, are autumnal, but the strong piano part suggests resolve. In both songs, rise the image of a woman who may no longer exist. With the third song, We mg?ach (In the Mist) the vocal line curves mysteriously, like the mists and streams in the evening cool. What’s happening ? “Bez dna, bez dna! bez granic!” sings Majzner, (No bottom, no bottom, without borders!). In dreams, the poet hears mysterious voices calling . In the last song, Pielgrzym, the line rises, swelling with hope. “Gdziekolwiek zwrÛc? krok, wsz?dzie mi jedno, na pÛ?noc pÛjd?, czyli na po?udnie”, (Everywhere I turn, from the north I will go south) Immediately one thinks of the Persian Song of the Night in Szymanowski’s Symphony no 3 and in the Shepherd in the opera KrÛl Roger whose singing changes the King’s life.
Miecz?aw Kar?owicz (1876-1909) and Szymanowski were influenced by the Young Poland movement, a literary and artistic aesthetic not dissimilar to the Secession in Munich and Vienna, but with specifically nationalist elements. Pointedly, Becza?a and Deutsch paired the early Szymanowski songs with Kar?owicz’s settings of poems by the same Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer . Indeed, both set the same text, Czasem, gdy d?ugo na pÛ? sennie mar?? (Sometimes when long I drowsily dream) which describes a strange, disembodied voice, heard in a dream. “I do not know if this is love, or death, that sings” . The piano part in Kar?owicz’s version is particularly sophisticated, suggesting perhaps Liszt or Chopin, though the style is distinctively fin de siËcle. In Na spokojnnym, ciemnym morzu (On the calm, dark sea) (op3 no 4 1896) the poet imagines sinking into oblivion. “Let me revel in Nothingness”. In recitals, reading the text while listening is not a good idea. You might get the words, but you cut yourself off from nuance and musical truth. Much, much better to concentrate on singer and pianist and use your intuition. Because Becza?a and Deutsch are so very good at what they do, intuitive listening was surprisingly accurate. The moody piano part suggested strange dissonance, and the edge in Becza?a’s voice suggested psychic anomie. The stillness in W wieczorn? cisz? (In the calm of the evening) (op3 no 8) is ominous. Again, the poet disassociates from the world. perishing “in the dark emptiness”. The Przerwa-Tetmajer texts are so surreal that they evoke very fine expression from Kar?owicz. Ironically, the composer died young, killed while skiing in the mountains.
Also from Kar?owicz’s op 3 are the songs Przed noc? wieczn? (Before eternal night) and Zaczarowana krÛlewna (The Enchanted Princess) settings respectively of Zygmunt Krasinski and Adam Asnyk, receiving relatively more straightforward treatment from the composer, but as evocatively performed by Becza?a and Deutsch. Becza?a has appeared in several Polish operas, including Stanis?aw Monicuisko’s Halka and Straszny dwÛr (The Haunted Manor) – please read about that here. After the intensity of the very beautiful Kar?owicz songs, the Monicuisko songs were rather more down to earth. Monicuisko (1819-1872) reflected an earlier aesthetic than that of Kar?owicz : more nationalistic, closer to Smetana than to the world at the turn of the 20th century. Thus robust songs about sweethearts and spinning wheels, complete with atmospheric piano figures, and Polna rÛ?yczka so vividly sung by Becza?a that it was instantly recognizable as a setting of Goethe’s Heidenrˆslein, without needing translation. Then Monicuisko’s Krawkowiaczek (The Krakow Boy) who fools around but loves only Halka. For an encore, another wonderful Kar?owicz song The Golden years of Childhood. “It’s my favourite” said Becza?a : almost as well crafted as the Przerwa-Tetmajer songs but warmer and cheerier.
image_description=Piotr Becza?a [Photo by Johannes Ifkovits]
product_title= Piotr Becza?a, Helmut Deutsch, Polish and Italian art songs, Wigmore Hall, London, 22nd October 2018
product_by=A review by Anne Ozorio
product_id=Above: Piotr Becza?a [Photo by Johannes Ifkovits]