by Michael Caruso
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, hosted the final installment of its series of “Five Fridays: Concerts for the Community” in this its eighth season April 5. The performers were a trio of musicians brought together by Astral Artists, the local organization that helps young musicians make the transition from conservatory student to professional performer.
The players were violinist Katie Hyun, cellist Zlatomir Fung & pianist Ronaldo Rolim. Their program consisted of two piano trios: Shostakovich’s Trio No. 2 in E minor, Opus 67, and Schubert’s Trio in E-flat, D. 929.
The Shostakovich work, composed toward the end of World War II in 1944, reflects the revelation of the Nazi death camps in which more than six million European Jews were slaughtered as part of Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution.” With the liberation of one camp after the next by the Allied troops as they hurtled toward Berlin from both east and west, it became clear that the dreaded rumors of their existence were all true.
As he had done in virtually all of his music, Shostakovich mirrored the horrors of the world around him, be it the Nazis in Germany or Josef Stalin and the Communists in his own Russia, in music of daunting dissonances, jagged rhythms, shrieking textures, tortured melodies and eerie atmospheres that often postponed any sign of hope until the final measures of the final movement.
The Trio’s first movement offers a tangled dialogue between the violin and cello with the piano surrounding them with pointed jabs. The second movement speaks harsh tones while the third sings a slow, sad song. The fourth movement’s tinges of humor are often more unsettling than they are reassuring.
Hyun, Fung & Rolim gave the work a memorable reading. They played with expert ensemble and a consistency of style that efficaciously projected the composer’s intentions.
Schubert’s Trio in E-flat was composed in the final year of his life, 1828. Beethoven, his idol, had died the year before, and this work successfully aspires to the grandeur that typified Beethoven’s music but is also invested with the melting lyricism that characterized Schubert’s.
Hyun, Fung & Rolim caught the bubbling tunefulness of the first movement, the emotional tumult of the second, the giddiness of the third and the symphonic scale of the fourth.
The one touch of melancholy of the evening was its being the final “Five Fridays” to be attended by the Rev. Clifford Cutler, the rector of St. Paul’s Church who is retiring at the end of this month. Cutler has been an unflagging supporter of these fundraising concerts. His beaming presence will be sorely missed.
MOZART’S ‘REQUIEM MASS’
Guest conductor Bernard Labadie led the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Westminster Symphonic Choir and four vocal soloists in performances of Mozart’s “Requiem Mass” April 11-13 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. These were the Orchestra’s first performances of the work in the version of the score completed by Robert Levin rather than the traditional completion by Mozart’s student, Franz Sussmayr.
Labadie took a fairly unsentimental approach to the score. Tempi were mostly brisk, textures were often transparent and always light, rhythms were energetic, and a through line of thematic development was maintained throughout the score. The Quebec-born maestro brought out the music’s many instrumental solo lines as counterparts to the solo vocal lines conveying the traditional Latin text of the Requiem Mass. The playing of principal trombonist Nitzan Haroz in the “Tuba mirum” was revelatory for its muscular lyricism. All that was missing was a sense of profound spirituality that sets this score apart from many others by Mozart.
Three of Labadie’s four vocal soloists were less than laudable. Soprano Armanda Forsythe’s superfluous gesticulations seemed to be intended for an audition for roles in either “Cosi fan tutte” or “Le nozze di Figaro.” Tenor Jeremy Ovenden produced one of the most strangled tones I’ve ever heard, and bass-baritone Neal Davies’ singing was grizzled to the point of being bereft of a clearly defined pitch. Only mezzo-soprano Michele Losier acquitted herself well.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Westminster Symphonic Choir sang fabulously with awesome power when it was called for, beautifully balanced against touching intimacy when that was necessary.
The concert opened with fine renditions of Mozart’s “Masonic Funeral Music,” K. 477, and the Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183.
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