Nashville Symphony Review

By John Pitcher, ArtsNash

The glorious sounds of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and Chorus are filling the Schermerhorn Symphony Center this weekend.

On Friday night, the NSO Chorus under the direction of Giancarlo Guerrero presented two seldom-heard (and thematically related) works – Beethoven’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage and Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 1 “A Sea Symphony.”  Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor, brilliantly played on Friday by Christina and Michelle Naughton, rounded out the program. The concert repeats Saturday, Oct. 26 at 8 p.m.

Beethoven’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, which opened Friday’s concert, is what you might refer to as a “Pocket Cantata.” Composed in 1815, the work lasts a mere eight minutes, but its setting of two poems by Goethe nevertheless packs a powerful punch. The performance was certainly memorable, thanks to the careful preparation of the chorus’ new director Kelly Corcoran.

The chorus sang the opening line of Goethe’s “Meerestille”(“Calm Sea”) with hushed beauty, the group’s pianissimo singing suggesting a glassy ocean. They performed the second poem, “Glückliche Fahrt” (“Prosperous Voyage”), with the sort of radiant energy often associated with the composer’s Ninth Symphony. Guerrero and the NSO accompanied with remarkable control, allowing even the softest vocalizations to be easily heard.

I did a double-take when the Naughton sisters, who appeared next, first walked onstage. These two young pianists from Madison, Wis., are identical twins, and they are also the real deal. Trained at the Juilliard School and Curtis Institute of Music, the Naughtons played Poulenc’s D-minor concerto with dramatic flair, tossing off brilliant passagework in the outer movements with ease while playing the Mozartean second movement with elegance and grace. The performance was as sparkling and effervescent as champagne. Poulenc, one of history’s most insouciant composers, would have loved it.