by Michael Caruso
Donald Nally and The Crossing, the chamber choir he founded and directs, will present “The Crossing @ Christmas” Friday, Dec. 20, 8 p.m. in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 22 E. Chestnut Hill Ave. The concert offers a candle-lit atmosphere of quiet reflection and views the season of Advent through the lens of the natural world. Texts for the choral works are taken from poetry ranging from the Book of Job to Walt Whitman, and include sacred antiphons by Christina Rossetti.
Explained Nally, “The center piece of the concert is the East Coast premiere of Wolfgang Rihm’s ‘Astralis’ for choir, cello and timpani. It’s a spiritually rich work based on a poem of Novalis, and it consider balances in our universe: unity, how joy and sorrow coexist, death and rebirth, and the smallness of humanity in the cosmos. It’s also about waiting: ‘caught in the process of transformation into something beautiful that is still to come.’
“Around ‘Astralis’ are laced works of expectation and anticipation,” Nally continued. “Estonian composer Tulev’s ‘Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice!’ ecstatically celebrates the world we live in. His widely spaced textures and colliding harmonies overlap, emerge and reach humbly upward in a 24-voice kaleidoscope of colors.” Tickets can be purchased at www.crossingchoir.com.
Stepping into the breach caused by music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin’s cancellation due to illness, Michael Tilson Thomas guest conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra December 5, 7 and 8. Joining him for Brahms’ “Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor” (not the originally scheduled “Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major”) was French pianist Helene Grimaud. Despite her glamorous image and solid playing, however, it was Tilson Thomas’ interpretation of Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique” that proved to be Saturday evening’s finest performance, and several local members of the orchestra offered prominent solos of note.
Tilson Thomas, the longtime music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, took both a timbral and theatrical approach to Berlioz’s seminal work. With a deft hand, he elicited playing of extraordinary clarity from all four choirs of the ensemble: strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. Saturday night’s audience heard a tale of obsessive ecstasy told in stunning musical colors.
One of the most memorable moments in “Symphonie fantastique” is the mournful English horn solo that opens the third movement, and former Chestnut Hiller Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia played it with poignant lyricism. Also, West Mt. Airy’s Daniel Matsukawa, the orchestra’s principal bassoonist, played the demonic solos of the fourth movement with technical mastery and interpretive flair.
Grimaud’s rendition of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto was more than adequate – even admirable – but it hardly measured up to performances given this mighty score by other virtuosos in the past. I once heard Artur Rubinstein perform the Brahms with Eugene Ormandy following intermission after having played Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto for a Pension Fund Concert. With Rubinstein at the Steinway, the stage was set for an epic battle between the piano and the orchestra — and with Rubinstein’s golden tone and aristocratic phrasing, the piano was always triumphant. And who could forget Van Cliburn collaborating with Ormandy when the pianist was at the height of his technical and musical powers? The recently deceased Texan carried on the romantic traditions Rubinstein so nobly epitomized.
Valentin Radu will conduct the Vox Renaissance Consort in “Renaissance Noel” Friday, Dec. 20, 8 p.m., in the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill. Explained Radu, “We invite our friends in Chestnut Hill to enjoy a very special Christmas musical experience that is perfect for all ages. ‘Renaissance Noel’ is a joyous musical journey through centuries-old folk songs, carols, madrigals and motets. The professional singers of Vox Renaissance Consort are attired in beautiful High Renaissance dress, and they will be accompanied by minstrels performing on period-appropriate instruments.”
Tickets are priced at $25 for general admission, $20 for seniors and $10 for students and children. More information at 610-688-2800 or www.VoxAmaDeus.org.