by Michael Caruso
Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum collaborated with Opera Philadelphia to present its final Sunday afternoon classical recital of the winter season Sunday, March 3. Soprano Kelly Ann Bixby, baritone John David Miles and pianist Tim Ribchester offered a program of selections mostly taken from the operas of Benjamin Britten.
However, the concert opened and closed with works not composed by Britten. Bixby sang the “Dona nobis pacem” aria from Peabody Conservatory alumnus Kevin Puts’ “Silent Night,” the most recent production by Opera Philadelphia in the Academy of Music. She also sang the afternoon’s closing work, the “Pie Jesu” movement from Gabriel Faure’s “Requiem Mass.” Just prior to that selection, Miles sang “It is enough” from Mendelssohn’s oratorio, “Elijah.” Departing from Britten’s canon wouldn’t have been inherently a mistake except that these three excerpts proved themselves to be the program’s three finest pieces.
Best of all was the Faure. A breathtakingly beautiful setting of the traditional text of the Latin Requiem Mass that is still regularly used for the final commendation at a Catholic funeral.
Miles was most impressive in the Mendelssohn, capturing the physical exhaustion of the Old Testament prophet, worn out by warnings no one takes seriously. Woodmere’s series of afternoon classical recitals resumes Sunday, April 7, with excerpts from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
Veteran maestro Christoph von Dohnanyi guest-conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in a trio of concerts heard in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall on March 8, 9 and 10. I caught the Saturday evening performance and came away impressed by Dohnanyi’s technical skill and interpretive finesse.
The concert opened with a sterling rendition of Witold Lutoslawski’s “Funeral Music” for string orchestra. The Philadelphians under Dohnanyi’s sensitive yet forceful baton balanced the score’s astringent chromaticism against its lush string writing, connecting the four unbroken movements in a modern yet romantic arch of development and resolution.
After intermission, Dohnanyi led one of the most thrilling performances of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major I’ve heard in many years. The quick pace and transparent textures of the fast movements one, three and four showed how profoundly the conductor has integrated into his own interpretive approach the practices of period instruments, conductors and ensembles.
Donald Nally conducted The Crossing, vocal soloists, instrumentalists and two dancers in a performance of “Bonhoeffer,” a choral theater piece by Thomas Lloyd, Sunday, March 10, in the Episcopal Cathedral in West Philadelphia. Also taking part was the Rev. Robert Tate, rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, from 1995 through 2009. The mixed-media concert drew an audience that filled a good portion of the former Church of the Savior – and left that audience with much to consider regarding the plight of a moral person in an immoral world.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the 20th century German Lutheran theologian who, after having studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, chose to return to Germany to oppose the Nazis rather than pursue a far less dangerous career in the U.S. His opposition to the Nazis led him to break with the established Lutheran Church when it capitulated to the regime, and he joined in the formation of the opposing Confessing Church. Ultimately Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for two years and was hanged 23 days before the end of World War II.
Donald Nally and The Crossing, based at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, and their soloists gave “Bonhoeffer” a consummate performance Sunday afternoon, one that both showed their own prowess and the music’s potency.