Robert Duerr, the North Tonawanda native whose distinguished conducting career has taken him all over the world, was back home Friday evening on the podium of Kleinhans Music Hall to conduct the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and chorus in "Songs of Eternity: A Choral Spectacular."
The concert began with Ralph Vaughan Williams' cantata "Dona Nobis Pacem" and concluded with Gabriel Faure's ethereal and ever-popular Requiem.
Duerr, formal in his tails, showed himself to be a less-is-more leader. He seems to be able to communicate with the musicians without doing a lot, at least overtly. He let the music unfold naturally and he gave it room to breathe.
Soprano Johane Ansell -- she comes from the unlikely place of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan -- was a striking presence, with her red hair, pale skin and deep blue-green gown. One listener remarked that she looked like a Raphael painting.
Her voice was lovely, confident and soothing. In the Vaughan Williams, her enunciation of the words "Dona Nobis Pacem" -- "give us peace" -- stood in satisfying contrast to the sometimes strenuous music going on around her.
Baritone Geoffrey Sirett is another Canadian, a graduate of the University of Toronto. He had a good sense of drama, and his enunciation was such that you could usually understand him. High praise.
The Vaughan Williams is a polarizing piece.
But the music's drama and poetry were engrossing. Duerr and his forces gave the music a taut energy.
In the "Reconciliation" section, the strings had a wonderful, worried sound as Sirett sang of seeing his enemy dead. The timpani added its own notes of nervousness.
It helped that the musicians did not overdo it. The performance was subtle and Duerr treated the dynamics with care, so it never grew bombastic.
I did not time the Faure, but I imagine it was on the long side. Not that I had a problem with that. I loved how hushed and unhurried it was. The Kyrie, for starters, was beautifully and softly sculpted. The chorus' tone was warm and low, and the music took shape gradually, with an effortless sound.
The Mass proceeded with a sensuous beauty. You could tell how absorbed the audience was by the coughing and exhaling when each section ended.
We got a brief chance to observe the chorus a cappella and it is doing very well, especially considering its recent turmoil. The singers showed commitment and enthusiasm.
The orchestra, particularly the strings and Suzanne Thomas on harp, provided a steady and beautifully textured pulse.
Ansell's treatment of the famous "Pie Jesu" was lovely and guileless. The Requiem's low-key ending was full of sweetness, bringing the night to an emotional close.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus
"Songs of Eternity: A Choral Spectacular" with guest conductor Robert Duerr.
Friday evening in Kleinhans Music Hall.