To those of Ukrainian origin, the name of Taras Shevchenko has overtones reminiscent of both Thomas Jefferson and Walt Whitman. A poet and fighter for Ukrainian independence, he was honored last night at the Kennedy Center with a concert largely dedicated to music based on his writings.
Several of the composers represented, including Mykola Lysenko, Borys Lyatoshynsky and Kyrylo Stetsenko, deserve wider attention. The music included both solo and choral selections, a segment of an opera and a very powerful dramatic cantata -- small hints of a very rich musical culture.
The performers included the Prometheus Chorus, an excellent Ukrainian ensemble from Philadelphia, as well as mezzo-soprano Renata Babak, tenor Bohdan Chaplynsky and bass Stefan Szkafarowsky. Szkafarowsky has just passed his 30th birthday and his voice will probably not reach its fullest glory for another 10 years, but it is already rich, expressive and well trained. Chaplynsky had some trouble, early in the evening, controlling his voice when it went into the upper register, but he settled down nicely in the second half.
Babak, when she defected from the Soviet Union in 1973, had one of the great voices of our time. It has lost some of its ease and power in the past few years, and her singing was uneven throughout the evening, but there were moments of glory.