by Michael Caruso
Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum brought the spring season of its Sunday afternoon series of classical concerts to a close May 12, Mother’s Day, with a recital featuring pianist Michelle Cann and four of her musical friends. In works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, J.S. Bach and Franz Schubert, Cann displayed an impeccable technique fully at the service of the music, capturing not just the immediately accessible characteristics of each composer’s style but also the more profound intention of his essential personality.
Although Vaughan Williams’ “Piano Quintet in C minor” and Schubert’s ‘“Trout’ Piano Quintet in A major” received sterling renditions by Cann, the pianist was heard at her best in Bach’s “Partita No. 1 in B-flat major.” Cann, who graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music only the day before, gave a performance of such tonal beauty, stylistic integrity and digital perfection that I’m not sure I’ll ever want to hear it again on a harpsichord, the instrument for which it was originally written.
Cann played the opening Praeludium with a seamless legato that not only didn’t blur Bach’s complex counterpoint but which enhanced it because of its singing tone. The Allemande was played with a light touch, an effortless raising and lowering of the dynamic level, and sensitive pedaling.
Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet remains as popular as ever since it was composed two centuries ago. Its challenges are many, yet they’re far outweighed by its rewards. Cann and her colleagues gave it a reading that was emotionally intense yet effervescent in mood, expertly balanced and lyrically voiced.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, hosted one of the most encouraging choral concerts of the season Sunday, May 5. The principal performers were members of the 120-strong Gleeksman-Kohn Children’s Choir of Settlement Music School, whose director Rae Ann Anderson led a program of music that spanned the ages from the 18th to the 21st century with a commissioned world premiere. Equally as encouraging as the fine singing and playing heard in St. Paul’s Church was the presence of an audience that numbered nearly 500.
The world premiere performance was given to the commissioned “Time Machine,” written by local composer Roberto Pace. Scored for chorus, piano (Pace himself), synthesizer (Vanyah Harrigan) and percussion (Kris Rudzinski), “Time Machine” maps the local journey through the historical ages in a musical idiom that incorporates older traditions with contemporary modes, including a short excursion into rap. Despite its broadly varied styles, the work held together Sunday afternoon, due in large part to Anderson’s firm hand and the choir’s fine singing.
HE’S NEVER RATTLED
Even in the euphoria surrounding Yannick Nezet-Seguin’s first season as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, admiration for Sir Simon Rattle is still a powerful current with the orchestra’s audiences. For many, the Englishman remains the maestro who got away when, in 2002, he accepted the post of chief conductor and artistic director of the legendary Berlin Philharmonic, considered by many to be the greatest orchestra in the world.
That affection was apparent Saturday night when Rattle led the Philadelphians in profound readings of Sibelius’ Sixth and Seventh Symphonies and joined Curtis alumnus Lang Lang in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. And it was returned by Rattle when he paired with Lang Lang for a four-hand piano duet as an encore to the concerto. To say that the house erupted in adoration would be an understatement.
Rattle’s collaboration with Lang Lang in the performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto prior to intermission was memorable. He set the sonic stage for the pianist to offer one of the most scintillatingly clear yet endlessly varied tones I’ve heard in years of concertgoing. Even more impressive than Lang Lang’s digital prowess was his complete command over the music’s structure and the delineation of classical style with virtuosic flair. While some may quibble with his physical mannerisms, I remain awed by his transcendent pianism.