Saint Ephraim Male Choir & Balázs "Dongó" Szokolay Bartók & Folk
After seven years of preparation by artistic director Tamás Bubnó and the 16 singers, the time seem ripe to present an unfamiliar side of this great Hungarian genius, to both his compatriots and the world at large. For Bartók’s male choruses draw directly on the melodic world of Hungarians and the other peoples of the Carpathian Basin, but their message is universal, deep, and they speak to us all: a man has his place in the world; his prayers, struggles, feelings, thoughts, fears, love, mortality and strength swell, pulsate and surge within us...
About the album
Recorded at Béla Bartók Unitarian Parish Church, Budapest, 2-5 December, 2014
Recorded and edited by Zoltán Osváth
Artwork: László Huszár / Greenroom
Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
Supported by the National Cultural Fund of Hungary, the Ministry of Human Capacities and the Saint Ephraim Foundation
Richard Whitehouse - Gramophone (en)
Graham Rickson - The Arts Desk (en)
Raul da Gama - The World Music Report (en)
Raul da Gama - JazzdaGama (en)
Franpi Barriaux - Franpisunship.com (fr)
Roland Binet - Jazz a Round (fr)
Dmitry Ukhov - Cultradio.ru (ru)
Karol Rzepecki - Muzyka21 ***** (pl)
Fittler Katalin - Gramofon **** (hu)
Szabó I. - Papirusz portál (hu)
Czékus Mihály - HFP online (hu)
Bartók & Folk: Béla Bartók’s complete works for male choir, interspersed with folk music
The album is available in digital form at our retail partners
Béla Bartók died 70 years ago, in 1945 in New York. ‘What I most regret is that I have to leave with a full suitcase...’ he said before dying. Only he could know what he had not yet written; all we have to work with is what he left behind him. An anniversary always provokes debate about the relevance of the oeuvre of a great master, and his place in a given era. The Saint Ephraim Male Choir began to work with Bartók’s music in 2007. Over the years it became increasingly clear that all six of his works for male choir (Evening , Four Old Hungarian Folksongs [1910–12], Slovak Folksongs , Four Old Hungarian Folksongs version II , Székely Folksongs  and From Olden Times ) contain music of unparalleled beauty, yet in terms of vocal chamber music, are highly taxing for the performers. (Obviously this is the main reason they are performed so rarely.)
The least known area of Bartók’s musical legacy is his choral works, including the six male choruses. He wrote the first when he was 22 and the last when he was 54: these compositions run almost throughout his composing career – from the youthful post-Romantic blooming, through his folksong arrangements based on experiences gained on field trips, which infl uenced his whole life and outlook, to one of the greatest works ever written for male choir: a chorus suite entitled From Olden Times.
After seven years of preparation by artistic director Tamás Bubnó and the 16 singers, the time seem ripe to present an unfamiliar side of this great Hungarian genius, to both his compatriots and the world at large. For Bartók’s male choruses draw directly on the melodic world of Hungarians and the other peoples of the Carpathian Basin, but their message is universal, deep, and they speak to us all: a man has his place in the world; his prayers, struggles, feelings, thoughts, fears, love, mortality and strength swell, pulsate and surge within us. Between Bartók’s works we hear authentic folk music and an extension of it, which gives an insight into the sources, the musical and psychological experiences that may have touched the composer on his field trips: these are played by Balázs Szokolay Dongó on the bagpipes, recorder, and tárogató, with the participation of members of the Saint Ephraim Male Choir.
On Bartók's male choruses
In 2015 BMC Records released Bartók’s complete choral works performed by the Choir of Eötvös Loránd University and the Liszt Ferenc University of Music, conducted by László Dobszay. The liner notes for the complete works were written by András Wilheim. Below can be found the parts dealing with the male choruses:
The first version of the Négy régi magyar népdal [Four Old Hungarian Folksongs] for male choir was written in 1910 at the request of the Szeged Dalárda (glee club); sixteen years later Bartók went back to it, revising the composition for the male choir of the Toldi Circle in Bratislava and its conductor István Németh. It is a significant piece in several respects: it says much of how, at the beginning of his work arranging folksongs, Bartók thought of the structure of cycle of songs; and how he tried to manage the highly awkward problem (in terms of composition) of the tessitura of the male voice choir.
Est was written in April 1903 (to a poem by Kálmán Harsányi, a text that Bartók also set as a song accompanied by piano); following in the Liedertafel (male choral society) tradition, it was likely intended for a group of friends. But the quality of the arrangement shows he probably also had greater plans for it (this is the first of Bartók’s works to be an unsuccessful competition entry; he may also have intended it to be his graduating work from the Music Academy), but he soon felt its style to be archaic, and the work remained unpublished.
The Tót népdalok (Slovak Folksongs) for male choir was also an occasional composition: it was written for a concert organized in 1918 in Vienna (together with the orchestration of the Román népi táncok [Rumanian Folk Dances]). The aim of the concert was to present the music of the armies of Austria-Hungary. The origins of the work’s folksong material go back to the collection of soldiers’ songs of 1916–17 (transcribed in barracks, commissioned by the ministry of war); Bartók found the first folksong in this series in 1915 during a field trip in Podkonice. One interesting feature of the form is that here Bartók uses structural repetition in a folksong cycle for the first time (the material of the first movement recurs as an introduction to the last movement).
The Székely népdalok [Székely Folksongs] for male choir (1932–33) was written in its first form (now the Seconda parte) to a Swiss commission in 1932, then supplemented in 1933 to make the complete version for the Bratislava male choir (which, perhaps to the composer’s surprise, around this time adopted the name Béla Bartók). The work is Bartók’s last folksong chorus, and is hardly any less difficult (particularly in the first part) than the Magyar népdalok for mixed choir.
In relation to the compositions of Bartók’s last decade and a half one often hears references to a change of direction, the traces of an incomplete transformation in his most popular pieces. Elmúlt időkből (1935) also gives a glimpse of an incomplete change – which only Bartók could have carried through: only he, in his own era.
Saint Ephraim Male Choir
The choir was named after Saint Ephraim, the Syrian (306–373) whose contemporaries gave him the epithet ‘the harp of the Holy Spirit’. His chants and hymns guided many people to the path of truth. The principal goal of the Saint Ephraim Male Choir is to research, present and spread the vocal heritage of Byzantine-rite Christianity and music, in its beauty and mystery, both in Hungary and abroad. The other missionary ambition of the Choir is to endorse European contemporary music and to nurture the rich Hungarian literature for male choir (Liszt, Bartók, Kodály, Ligeti).
The Saint Ephraim Male Choir was founded in 2002 and has gradually grown to be the most popular vocal ensemble in Hungary. The founder and artistic director is Tamás Bubnó, Liszt-award winning choral conductor. The members of the choir have exceptional vocal abilities and high-ranking qualifications in music.
The springboard to the choir’s international career was resounding success in 2006 when they won the category of Professional Chamber Choir in the 25th Anniversary Competition in the Hajnówka International Festival of Orthodox Music (Poland). They were the first ensemble from a non-Slavic country to win first prize in the history of the competition.
Though Saint Ephraim Male Choir regularly gives concerts at the most important musical centres and festivals in Europe, the core of their work consists of their highly successful performances in their native land. They have been organising the Orientale Lumen (Light of the East) series since 2011 in St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest, they regularly perform at the Budapest Spring Festival, at the Marathon series of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, at the Arcus Temporum contemporary music festival in Pannonhalma, and at the Zemplén Music Festival. The choir frequently gives concerts in major Hungarian cities like Pécs, Miskolc, Nyíregyháza, Eger, etc. The Saint Ephraim Male Choir cherishes an excellent relationship with the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, often singing at services and church music events. They are constantly invited to perform at the programmes of the Hungarian Ruthenian minority as well as other groups connected to Byzantine Christian tradition, such as Bulgarian, Greek or Ukrainian minorities. The Saint Ephraim Male Choir was awarded the Pro Cultura Minoritatum Hungariae Prize in 2012 for promoting Ruthenian culture in Hungary and abroad.
The festival success in Poland paved the way for the choir to the international concert podium: in the last five years they have given concerts in Berlin, Vienna, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Ljubljana, Montevideo, Moscow, Paris, Bratislava, Rome, St Petersburg and Warsaw. The choir has also been invited to important festivals: the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, the Donaufest-Ulm, the MusikFestspiele Saar, the Festival de Royaumont, the Festival d’Auvers sur Oise, the Ravenna Festival, the Janáček May Festival, the Dvořák Festival, the Sakralnej Festival in Gdynia, the Liszt Festival in Raiding/Doborján, the Gdansk Spring Festival, Mikołówskie Dni Muzyki, the Liszt Festival-Bratislava, the Concentus Moraviae Festival, and the St Petersburg Spring Festival. The Saint Ephraim Male Choir has released eight CDs. Their album Byzantine Mosaics received the Supersonic Award by Pizzicato Magazine (Luxembourg) in June 2010.
Numerous Hungarian composers have written pieces for the choir, including Barnabás Dukay, György Philipp, László Sáry and Péter Zombola.
The choir often has joint performances with renowned ensembles, orchestras and soloists like the Amadinda Percussion Group, the Barilli Choir, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Budapest String Orchestra, the Danubia Orchestra Óbuda, Muzsikás Ensemble, the Moravian Symphony Orchestra – Zlín, the NIKA Chamber Choir, the Parafonia Orchestra, Russian Orthodox Soloists, the Russian Patriarchate Choir of Moscow, Schola Cantorum Budapestiensis, the Weiner-Szász Chamber Orchestra, Dragoslav Pavle Aksentijevic, Tito Ceccherini, Hans-Ola Ericsson, László Fassang, Iván Fischer, Anatolij Fokanov, Joseph Kelemen, Soeur Marie Keyrouz, Nishat Khan, Csaba Király, Eduard Kutrowatz, Róbert Mandel, Abeer Nehme, Yevgeny Nesterenko, Anatoly Fokanov, Nektaria Karantzi, Bishop Fülöp Kocsis, Bea Palya, Gábor Presser, Judit Rajk, Riccardo M. Sahiti, Márta Sebestyén, Stanislav Surin, Tünde Szabóki, and Balázs Szokolay Dongó.
Balázs Szokolay Dongó
Balázs Szokolay Dongó is one of the greatest exponents of folk music on the bagpipes, recorder, tárogató, and saxophone. While deep in the study of folklore of the Carpathian Basin he began to arrange folk music. This gave rise to a special workshop approach in which folk music is manifest in historical music and improvisation.
He has been a member or contributor to many infl uential folk and jazz bands (Vasmalom, Csík Band, Vujicsics, Kolinda, Téka, Dél-alföldi Saxophone Ensemble, Muzsikás, Etnofon Musical Partnership), has performed with renowned artists (Zoltán Kocsis, Andrea Rost, Márta Sebestyén) and to this day is an infl uential member of several line-ups (Bea Palya, Both Miklós Folkside).
His own compositions bear the imprint of the musical culture of various peoples (Hungarian, Romanian, Serbian, Croatian, Slovak and Gypsy), while having a modern, contemporary feel. As well as giving concerts he composes, and writes incidental music for dance and puppet theatre productions.
He has performed in world music festivals and important concert halls in Europe and other continents: the Concertgebouw, Bimhuis (Amsterdam), the Konservatorium in Bern, Bulgaria Hall (Sofia), the Royal Opera Hall (London), Carnegie Hall (New York), and the Kennedy Center (Washington). As a performer he took part in the Shanghai World Expo, he has toured in Australia and Japan, and he gave a concert with Márta Sebestyén in the Royal Palace in Madrid to the Spanish royal couple.
He holds the title Young Master of Folk Art, in 2005 he was awarded the Artisjus Prize, and in 2010 the municipality of the town of Tótkomlós decorated him with the Pro Urbe prize.