by Michael Caruso
I’ve always believed that Chestnut Hill is the most beautiful section of Philadelphia. As of late, I’ve come to recognize it as its most musical, as well. Once again I had the opportunity to attend two concerts this weekend – as it turned out, both on Sunday afternoon. The Woodmere Art Museum hosted the Philadelphia Trio at 3 p.m. in music by Beethoven, Brahms and Shostsakovich. Then, at 5, the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields presented a voice/piano recital featuring its soprano soloist, Krystiane Cooper, and Eric Meyer, its music director, in music by Poulenc, Schumann, Barber, Arlen and Pasatieri.
The Philadelphia Trio – pianist Elizabeth Keller, violinist Barbara Sonies and cellist Deborah Reeder – opened their Woodmere Art Museum recital with Beethoven’s early “Trio in G major.” They caught the bold tone of the first movement’s Adagio, and then moved into its Allegro with a brisk tempo and rhythmic drive throughout its development section.
Sonies and Reeder were particularly effective singing out the simple lyricism of the second movement, with Keller providing secure yet sensitive support. Ensemble was excellent throughout. Keller beautifully decorated the violin and cello parts in the third movement Scherzo, and all three musicians delineated the cheerful charm of the closing Presto.
At times, their playing was a tad too loud for the space at Woodmere, which is highly resonant and could use an artful rug under the piano, but their efforts at the middle and lower dynamics were exquisitely molded and lyrically shaped.
AT ST. MARTIN’S
Krystiane Cooper and Erik Meyer’s program at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church featured two major works – Schumann’s “Dichterliebe” and Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” – both of which I adore. Many years ago, I accompanied a fine tenor in performances of the Schumann, so I know the score intimately from the inside out; and I have always been a fervent fan of virtually all the music of West Chester’s Samuel Barber, especially this 1947 setting of James Agee’s nostalgic poetry. Hearing them both on the same program performed in the evocative gothic-revival setting of St. Martin’s was a triple treat if ever there was one.
Cooper and Meyer approached the Schumann with expressive integrity and interpretive intelligence. They offered the individual character of each of the cycle’s 16 songs yet forged them into an emotional journey with a secure sense of beginning, middle and end, leaving the listener with a profound appreciation of Heine’s revelatory poetry and Schumann’s masterful musical delineation of it. Cooper sang in a clear tone, excellent German diction, poignant phrasing and spiritual conviction. Meyer supported her sensitively.
Charles Dutoit ended his four-year tenure as the chief conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra with a magnificent concert Saturday night at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. Leading music by Glinka, Chopin and Ravel, the maestro who should have been chosen to succeed Riccardo Muti as music director in 1992 proved once again that he is a master interpreter and a tonal magician – one of the few conductors who can summon up the late Eugene Ormandy’s fabled “Philadelphia Sound” with a flick of his baton.
One can only dream about what the current state of the Philadelphia Orchestra would have been had Dutoit been named its music director in 1992. Flush with the success of transforming the Montreal Symphony from a minor band into a world-class orchestra, Dutoit would have brought with him to Philadelphia a recording contract that would have enabled the Philadelphians to remain at the forefront of an industry they had dominated during the 44-year tenure of Eugene Ormandy – but the project languished when the French-Swiss maestro wasn’t chosen as Muti’s successor. The rest, as they say, is history. With fewer and fewer recordings to offer the public, the orchestra lost a principal source of income.
One can also shudder at the thought of what might have happened to the ensemble during these recent years of bankruptcy filings had Dutoit not been around as chief conductor to maintain the Philadelphians’ artistic integrity and legendarily distinctive sound and personality. In many ways, Charles Dutoit has been the savior of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the audience Saturday night showered him with ovation after ovation in recognition of his singular service to the ensemble and the region.