Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Doris Bogner and Hyang Lee-Labek in recital at the Austrian National Day celebrations at the Austrian Hospice, Jerusalem

To conclude the Austrian National Day festive evening held on October 26th 2013 at the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family, on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City, a recital took place in the salon of the Hospice; it featured Austrian artists Doris Bogner-soprano and pianist Hyang Lee-Labek. The concert, comprising all Austrian music, was attended by many distinguished guests, among them, the Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, and the Greek Patriarch Theophilus III, Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem. Words of greeting and appreciation were given by rector of the Austrian Hospice Markus St. Bugnyar.

A graduate of the Vienna Music Academy, Doris Bogner teaches voice at the Ludwig Ritter von Köchel Music School, Krems (Austria), is a consultant at various vocal courses; she gives solo performances in church music and as a concert- and oratorio singer in Austria and further afield. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Hyang Lee-Labek studied at the Seoul National University of Art and the Vienna Conservatory. She performs as a soloist and chamber musician, also accompanying singers, in Austria and other countries. Today, she teaches at the Ludwig Ritter von Köchel Music School and works as an accompanist at the Conservatory for Church Music of the Diocese of St. Pölten.

The program opened with Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) “Scena di Berenice”, a large-scale operatic scene set to a text from Metastasio’s “Antigono” and first performed in 1795. Doris Bogner contended impressively with the dramatic character of the scene, in which Berenice, in love with Demetrius, the son (by a previous marriage) of her husband Antigonus, struggles with her conflicting emotions, imagining her lover departing for the underworld; she calls on the gods to bring her life to an end. Bogner and Lee-Labek presented the many stages of the heroine’s drama and its dilemmas compellingly, with Lee-Labek taking on the orchestral score with two hands!

A major part of the program consisted of works by Mozart. The soprano voice has inspired some of Mozart’s most sublime music. In the concert aria “Als Luise die Briefe ihres ungetreuen Liebhabers verbrannte” (When Louisa burned the letters of her unfaithful lover) Bogner’s rendition brought out the doubts, the passionate despair, the melancholy and bitterness of this dramatic stage monologue, all with urgency and precision. In “Dans un bois solitaire” (In a lonely wood), written in the style of a French arietta, the artists set the tranquil scene of the cool, green forest through which a young man is wandering; he sees cupid asleep and wakes him, only to be shot with his arrows. Here, Bogner and Lee-Labek build up the song’s intensity and its message of fate in this compact but complete musical drama. One of the two songs Mozart had written to French texts, “Dans un bois” certainly does not belie the composer’s dislike of the French language! In “Das Veilchen” (The Violet), Lee-Labek opened with a sensitive description of the small, modest and unassuming violet, the piece then spiraling via the shepherdess’s song and dance to the catastrophe of the trampling of the violet, with the piece rounding off with the narrator’s sympathy with “the poor violet”. Bogner and Lee-Labek addressed the minutiae of this perfectly formed work. Providing comic relief from the tribulations of love, “Warnung” (Warning) was performed with the wink of an eye, with Bogner addressing her audience and entertaining it well with a few home truths:
‘Men are always searching for something to nibble;
If one leaves them alone
They will easily find a maiden to snatch,
For they know how to surprise them…’
The Mozart section of the program ended with what might be considered the composer’s greatest concert aria “Ch’io mi scordi di te?...Non temer, amato bene” (To forget you...Fear not, my beloved). Composed in 1786, the work merges operatic- with concerto elements. The artists collaborated in creating the many-faceted opera duet, Lee-Labek’s handling of the virtuosic and expressive piano part (played originally by Mozart himself) meeting Bogner at eye level, juxtaposing the virtually unaccompanied vocal outbursts with rapid flourishes on the piano.

The Schubert Lied section of the program opened with a very amusing rendering of “Die Männer sind méchant” (Men Are Rogues), to a text of Johann Seidl. This is a humorous, lubricious song on the subject of relationships between the sexes, (a subject and style seldom broached by Schubert), a risky theme at the time of stringent censorship in Metternich’s Austria. We then heard three much-loved and familiar Schubert Lieder: a finely chiseled performance of “Heidenröslein” (The Hedge Rose), with Lee-Labek alert to each turn of the miniature song, a descriptive and evocative reading of “Die Forelle” (The Trout) and the beguiling “Auf dem Wasser zu singen”, with its challenging piano evocation of the gentle lapping of the waves and the movement of a boat, the background to the song’s message that human life is transient.

In Hyang Lee-Labek’s performance of Franz Schubert’s Impromptu opus 142 no.3 in B flat major, there was much attention to the piece’s cantabile mood and to the different character of each variation, to its lightness as well as the dark brooding of the minor variation, offering some magical moments. Some of the passagework lacked delicacy.

The recital took the audience into the very early 20th century, with one of Arnold Schönberg’s Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret Songs). Financial pressures provided the unfortunate circumstances for the composer to try his hand at writing music for the less-than-cultured audience of cabarets, rather than for the bourgeois people visiting Vienna’s musical salons; in fact, there is no record that these “Cabaret Songs” (1901-1902) were ever performed. The singer in the Aria from the “Spiegel von Arkadia” (Mirror of Arkady), to a poem by Mozart’s librettist Emanuel Schikenader, is a womanizer. Here, in a decidedly unfamiliar guise, Schönberg uses Romantic, tonal language and utilizes ambiguous harmonic ideas and piano figurations to highlight textual double-entendres. Doris Bogner and Hyang Lee-Labek gave the feisty, satirical song their all, ending the recital on an earthy note, bringing a smile to the faces of many present.

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