by Michael Caruso
My calendar of concert going offered me the opportunity of spending Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon in Chestnut Hill. I heard Donald Nally and The Crossing in concert in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill Saturday night and then took in a solo piano recital at Woodmere Art Museum Sunday afternoon. Nally and his choir continued their exploration of the best of contemporary classical music while Di Wu gave thrilling renditions of music by Brahms, Ravel and Liszt.
Saturday night’s concert by The Crossing leaned heavily in the direction of things Italian, both texturally and musically. The program opened with “Three Motets” by Bruno Bettinelli, one of the most famous 20th century teachers at Milan’s Conservatory. Among his students were conductors Riccardo Muti, Riccardo Chailly and Claudio Abbado and pianist Maurizio Pollini. Bettinelli was also a highly regarded composer, and shortly before his death in 2004, he composed a series of motets and madrigals, investing these late Medieval and Renaissance forms with eloquence and passion.
“Bone pastor” (Good Shepherd), “Respice in me” (Look on me) and “Ave verum corpus” (Hail true body) are concise evocations of the spirit of medieval chant. “Bone pastor” offers haunting melodies supported by lush harmonies and imitative counterpoint that sounds as though waves of sound were pouring in and over each other.
Nally, who is both the founder/director of The Crossing as well as the interim music director at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church elicited stunning singing from his choir in these unaccompanied motets. Pitch was perfect, balance was flawless, blend was immaculate, the Latin diction was unimpeachable, and the choir’s projection of the spirit behind the texts was palpable.
These Bettinelli masterpieces were followed by what was only the second performance of Haverford College composer Curt Cacioppo’s “Sequence of Vermilion Vespers: Cantata of the Angels.” Cacioppo’s music is a masterful amalgam of styles that combine the ancient with the modern, the traditional with the innovative. There are movements (and passages within movements) that hark back to Palestrina and the Renaissance, to J.S. Bach and the baroque and to Verdi and Puccini in their operatic opulence. And it all comes together in a musical continuum that may be a tad too extended at its conclusion but that nonetheless makes a powerful aural impact and a telling emotional impression.
Saturday evening’s performance was riveting. The choir sang splendidly. The church’s magnificent Mander pipe organ was played spectacularly by Ken Lovett. Formerly the director of music at the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Lovett is now interim organist at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.
Chinese-born pianist Di Wu played a recital program consisting of Brahms’ “Piano Sonata No. 3” (Une barque sur l’ocean) and “Alborado del gracioso” from Ravel’s “Mirroirs” and Liszt’s “Valse de l’opera” (Faust).
A graduate of both Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music and New York’s Juilliard School of Music, Wu’s finest playing was heard after intermission in the two Ravel selections and Liszt’s operatic paraphrase. In the first, she beautifully balanced shimmering splashes of notes high up in the piano’s register to capture the sight of sprays of water set against darkly embossed melodies in the instrument’s middle and lower registers to evoke the image of a boat moving along the ocean’s waters. It wasn’t merely an example of voicing — highlighting through the use of varied dynamic levels — but of true coloring, contrasting the timbres of tone by varying the fingers’ touch on the keys. In the second, she delineated the music’s naughty exuberance by playing the score’s myriad repeated notes in a buzz of stuttering brilliance.
Wu played Brahms’ Third Piano Sonata with technical command and stylistic consistency, but her interpretation was a trifle weak on the side of projecting the lyrical, German lieder foundation of all the composer’s piano music. Her playing was more impressive than touching.
AT ST. MARTIN’S
The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Chestnut Hill will present a recital featuring soprano Krystiane Cooper and pianist Erik Meyer at 5 p.m. Sunday, May 20. Meyer is the church’s director of music, and Cooper is the soprano soloist in its choir. Their program will consist of “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” by West Chester’s Samuel Barber, the “Airs Chantes” by Francis Poulenc and Robert Schumann’s song cycle, “Dichterliebe.”
St. Martin’s Church is located at the intersection of Willow Grove Avenue and St. Martin’s Lane. Call 215-247-7466 or visit www.stmartinec.org for more information.