Together with the Maryland State Boychoir, the Metropolitan Chorus devoted Sunday afternoon to the music of contemporary English composer John Rutter, a name especially familiar in church music circles. The program, presented at Mount Olivet United Methodist Church in Arlington, took a retrospective look at a host of Rutter's anthems, followed after intermission by his "Mass of the Children."
Confident, enthusiastic singing of the piece underscored Rutter's sensitivity to the human voice and to the sounds of English, which he invests with music that reinforces the language's rhythmic ebb and flow and the particular sonic resonance of diphthongs. Barry S. Hemphill conducted the combined choruses along with wind, percussion and organ in a polished account of the Mass. Based on a Latin text interspersed with Elizabethan poems, the work symbolizes the span of a day filled with life's inevitable ritual. With careful diction and beautifully open vowels, the Boychoir -- prepared by directors Frank Cimino and Stephen Holmes -- easily confirmed Rutter's comment that "children's voices are irresistible."
The concert's protracted first half was disappointing. Aside from rather boisterous performances and an excess of unwieldy stage movements, Rutter's anthems predictably clung to a feel-good major key fraught with faux-medievalisms, wavering between Britten and Bernstein's signature tunefulness. And intrusive applause followed every Mass section and anthem. Laurie Vivona Bunn was the attentive pianist, but the orchestra members were not identified.
-- Cecelia Porter
Beethoven didn't wrestle with his demons in private. His personal and emotional struggles are played out, gloriously, in his music, and his efforts to invent an adequately expressive language brought about the end of music's "classical" period. Pianist Andreas Haefliger is embarking on a six-year exploration of this struggle through performances of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas, and a number of works written before and after that share an affinity with them. He brought the first program in this cycle to the National Gallery on Sunday -- an overview, in five sonatas, of Beethoven's artistic development through the 20 years between the first of the Opus 10 sonatas (No. 5) and his A Major Sonata No. 28, Op. 101.
It is hard to imagine this music being played more thoughtfully or satisfactorily. Haefliger has the ability to focus on the moment and to anticipate the future at the same time, so, while the slow introductions to the opening movement of the Opus 81A sonata ("Les Adieux") and to the finale of the Opus 101 sonata seemed exquisitely nuanced and leisurely, there was never a doubt that something was about to happen. When it did, the contrast was one of energy and determination, never of control or concentration.
Haefliger has the instinct and the technique to allow the music to move with an inevitability that seems governed by the laws of both nature and artistic necessity. This was most evident in the slow movements, but even the most brilliant displays of power and speed (and this program was full of both) felt balanced and under control. Sonorities were carefully weighted, individual notes delicately shaped and the pauses between movements timed to perfection, but all this careful attention to detail only contributed to the larger musical landscape and to extraordinarily intimate communication in Beethoven's own language.
-- Joan Reinthaler