Ukrainian soprano sings music from her embattled country at Chopin Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Olga Pasichnyk performed Ukrainian and Polish songs Wednesday night at the Frost Chopin Festival.

Vocal music of the Ukraine was the featured attraction at the Frost Chopin Festival on Wednesday night at UM Gusman Concert Hall, presented by the Frost School of Music and the Chopin Foundation of the United States. Ukrainian soprano Olga Pasichnyk offered a selection of songs by her compatriot composers as well as Polish icons Chopin and Moniuszko.

Chopin’s art songs are his least performed works. A selection of seven of these vignettes was enticing, leaving one wanting to hear more from this oeuvre.

Pasichnyk unfurled a lovely lyrico-spinto voice that could turn lighter in soubrette fashion for these folkish, animated settings. She  deftly pointed the playful allure of “The Maiden’s Wish” and enacted the roles of mother as well as daughter for “Ukrainian Song,” in which a mother rightly suspects her child has sneaked away to the fields with her young lover. Pasichnyk’s rich middle register shone vividly in “The Sad River” as a mother laments the death of seven daughters. She aptly suggested the first flash of romance in the light-hearted “Handsome Lad.” Kevin Kenner accompanied her in a stylish, patrician manner.

Moniuszko was best known for his operas, with the composer’s Halka considered Poland’s national opera. A selection of seven of his songs displayed those dramatic, sometimes Italianate influences. 

Pasichnyk  provided a full-voiced welcome to sunlit beauty after the dark of winter in “Spring Song.”  She projected “Come My Sweetheart” with impassioned focus as the singer recounts the pain of a spurned lover. She showed apt comic style for “Matchmaking.” The sadness of “To a Flower Bud” was spun winningly and the death of “The Cossack” proved deeply moving, the soprano’s top notes ringing out. Veteran pianist Ewa Poblocka expertly dovetailed Pasichnyk’s phrasing.

Ukrainian songs by Mykola Lysenko, Kyrylo Stetsenko, Yakiv Stepovy and Viktor Kosenko completed the program. Visions of wilting flowers as metaphors for love lost and heartbreak dominated many of the selections. 

Kenner’s piano vigorously suggested the sound of nightingales during Lysenko’s “Cherry Garden by the House.” A rejected lover’s kiss became a haunting ode in Pasichnyk’s emotional rendition of “Sad Spring.” Stepovy’s “Evening Star” beamed forth with the melodic depth of Tchaikovsky. Two songs by Kosenko were the real gems in this group. “Speak, Speak” burst with reams of pleading emotion, sung by Pasichnyk with apt theatricality. 

“I am Sad,” felt like a timely lament for the Ukrainian people and the horrors of Russia’s brutal invasion of their country. Pasichnyk received a standing ovation from an audience that clearly felt deeply about their plight.

The program’s first half was devoted to performances of Chopin works by four students from the Frost Chopin Academy. They clearly were well prepared by their teachers, exhibiting professionalism and adept execution of the scores’ technical hurdles. 

Like most gifted students, they were not yet fully formed artists. Angelina Ning, 17 from Palm Beach County, proved the most satisfying with an excellent reading of the Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brilliante. Ning captured the singing line of the Andante in liquid reverie and stressed the rhythmic impetus of the polonaise’s dance currents without an overly percussive approach. 

Shih-Man Weng, 29 from Taiwan and a student of Chopin Festival director Kenner at the Frost School, was also impressive in a fleet-fingered traversal of the rarely heard Variations brilliantes in B-flat Major. 

Katherine Liu, 17, from Massachusetts, took the first movement of the Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35 at a fast clip with too hard a touch at times. Playing the final two movements of the Sonata in B minor, Op. 58, Malvyn Lai, 17 from California, displayed nicely idiomatic feeling for the Largo but his speed in the Presto non tanto tended to blur some of Chopin’s thematic invention.

The Frost Chopin Festival continues with Kevin Kenner and Frost Chopin Academy students playing works by Boris Lyatoshinsky, Ignancy Jan Paderewski and Chopin 7 p.m. Thursday at UM Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables.

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Thu Jun 23, 2022
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