by Michael Caruso

Donald Nally and The Crossing returned home Saturday, Nov. 9, to present a concert of contemporary Italian choral music in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. After singing in several other local and national venues, Nally told the large, enthusiastic audience that he and the choir were delighted to be back on their home turf. The result of that delight was a daunting program sung with technical polish and interpretive panache.

The concert’s major work was Stephen Paulus’ “Madrigals of Michelangelo,” written by the 64-year-old composer in 1986 and employing five poems by the great Italian Renaissance artist as its text. The five movements span the gamut of emotions and imageries, and the American-born Paulus responded with music that tests the depth and breadth of a choir’s capabilities, spanning the broadest possible range of dynamics, the deepest well of passions and the most daunting requirements of pitch, balance and blend.

There were moments of hushed whispers followed by piercing cries, lush harmonies answered by jarring dissonances, ethereal textures balanced against full-throated chords. Throughout the entire work, Nally and his singers essayed the technical difficulties and effectively projected the spirit beyond the text as though Paulus had composed the score specifically for them.

The concert’s central composer was Bruno Bettinelli, 1913-2004. Four of the five works by Bettinelli received exemplary renditions. The exception was “Sia calma al mio respiro,” which closed the concert. I couldn’t keep myself from wondering if the choir had simply run out of gas, so to speak. Entrances and cutoffs were a touch ragged, and even pitch sagged — all extremely rare for Nally and The Crossing.

LUTE & THEORBO

Richard Stone, co-founder & co-director of Tempesta di Mare, the region’s premier period instruments ensemble, presented a solo recital Sunday, Nov. 10, in the rotunda at Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum. He played the baroque lute for the program’s first half and then switched to the theorbo (a lute with additional bass strings) for its second half.

Stone opened the recital with an outstanding rendition of Bach’s “Prelude, Fugue & Allegro in E-flat.” Stone was successful delineating the theme and its counterpoint in the Fugue. The Bach was followed by Weiss’ “Sonata in D minor.” Here it struck me that Stone’s slow tempi in the first and second movements dampened the music’s effect. After intermission Stone played Visee’s “Pieces de theorbe.” The full sound of the theorbo’s bass strings resonated beneath the higher strings and enlarged the music’s span of emotional projection.

Tempesta di Mare will return to Chestnut Hill Sunday, Nov. 24, 4 p.m. with “Holiday in Paris: Telemann’s Musical Vacation” in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. Ticket information at 215-755-8776 or www.tempestadimare.org.

MOZART CONCERTO

Although Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9 in E minor, From the New World” was the major work on Saturday’s concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall, it was Mozart’s “Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major” that received the evening’s finest rendition. Austrian-born virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff performed the work with a combination of technical perfection and stylistic sophistication. The ovation he received from both the audience and the Philadelphians was well earned.

After intermission, guest conductor Manfred Honeck led a performance of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony. Its principal calling card was the superb playing of the English horn solo in the second movement by former Chestnut Hiller Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia.