Lech Napierala and Tomasz Konieczny
Last night found us at the beautiful home of the Kosciuszko Foundation for a recital by the legendary bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny and his collaborative pianist Lech Napierala. Mr. Konieczny is in town starring in Die Fliegende Holländer at The Metropolitan Opera, a role for which he has garnered outstanding reviews. What better place could there be for the artist to show his artistry in an intimate environment--under the benevolent eye of (a portrait of) Kosciuszko himself, a Polish friend to the American Revolution.
We don't want to take it for granted that our readers know about the Kosciuszko Foundation and the good works they do for Polish-American relations and we are just learning ourself. Originally we just perceived it a as the place to go for great music. Years ago Marilyn Horne had a series of concerts there and introduced us to many fine young singers who went on to fame and fortune.
We know little about Polish music but are always happy to learn more, especially since Poland is on our mind as being such a good friend to Ukrainian refugees. Of course, Chopin has always been our favorite composer of piano music but recently we have become more aware of Polish opera and art song. We have heard excerpts from Stanislaw Moniuszko's Halka and hope to hear the entire opera some day.
Hearing that Mr. Konieczny would be singing songs by Moniuszko made us determined to attend. We are so glad we did. The artist has a gorgeous instrument which he employs with perfect technique, making excellent use of word coloration and dynamic variation. We made note of several instances when he leaned on a particular consonant (the "k" in "küsse", for example) to great effect as well as coloring vowels, without altering them. This awareness was new to our ears and delighted us.
Moreover, he is a sublime actor and captures the mood of each and every phrase, making him a superlative storyteller He began the program with some songs by the 20th c. Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko. Our favorite was "One Sad Spring" which was delivered mostly pianissimo, with tender sorrow. In "The Cove", Mr. Napierala's piano set the stage with figures that represented the flow in a water-chute.
The centerpiece of the recital was a dozen songs by Richard Strauss, many of which were new to us. The ones that we were familiar with sounded entirely different in the bass-baritone range; we usually have heard them sung by a soprano.
We particularly enjoyed the familiar "Morgen" in which the piano prelude and postlude established a dreamy mood. In contrast was the song that followed which was upbeat and lively. Utilizing the artist's dramatic skills was one entitled "Ah, woe is me, unhappy man" which we had never heard before and can't even tell you the German title. Delightfully familiar was "Allerseelen" which always reminds us of the Mexican holiday El Dia de los Muertos when the dead are believed to come back for one day. "Zueignung" filled our heart and it is here that we noticed how the singer colored the vowels.
And then we moved on to a trio of songs by Moniuszko, our favorite of which was "Old Corporal" with its military sounding accompaniment. An old soldier rambles on and on about various phases of his military career. Maybe we even liked the next one better because of the singer's storytelling. An old man and his wife, long and happily married, are nearing the end and they each want to die first, rather than witness the loss of their beloved. We felt very moved by this.
Fortunately the program ending with some comedy, two nonsense songs by the 20th c. Polish composer Henryk Czyz, a bit of surrealism reminding us of some of Poulenc's songs.
Dear Reader, the most wonderful things happened during the encore, which was "Cossack" by Moniuszko. Mr. Konieczny abandoned the music stand and gave his full self to the audience! Before then, his acting had been hampered, like a spirited dog on a leash. And then he was liberated and we were bowled over.
© meche kroop