Review of the April 10, 2005 concert A Brave Heart is a Powerful Weapon

Chestnut Hill Local, April 14, 2005



Lyric Fest presented a Sunday afternoon concert of music intended to fight war without violence. Performed before a large and energized audience in the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, the ensemble — founded by soprano Randi Marrazzo of West Mt. Airy and mezzo Suzanne DuPlantis and pianist Laura Ward of Mt. Airy — offered a sweeping survey of music inspired and composed by a broad spectrum of composers, who based their music on a wide variety of poetry. When I scanned the program and saw names such as Schubert, Britten, Mussorgsky, Poulenc, Vaughan Williams, Wolf, Debussy, Ives, Blitzstein, Holst, Mahler, Handel, Barber, Bernstein and Irving Berlin, I found myself wondering how wars could still take place when so many obviously gifted and representative individuals had spoken out against the very notion of war — let alone its brutal reality? Yet we know that wars do happen — perhaps because too many of us lack what Rudy Garcia-Tolson meant when he wrote: “A brave heart is a powerful weapon”. That line was the title of the concert — and much, much more.

Among the afternoon’s loveliest performances was that given by DuPlantis of Vaughan Williams’ “The Infinite Shining Heavens”. The English master composed the song to words by Robert Louis Stevenson as a result of his tour of duty on the fields of France and Flanders during World War I. It was an experience that also inspired his “Pastoral” Symphony No. 3 and that injected a touch of melancholy nostalgia for a more peaceful life in almost everything he subsequently composed. DuPlantis sang the song with a poignancy that far surpassed sentimental sadness to achieve a level of profound regret at the loss of so much human potential at the hands of the monster of war.

Marrazzo delivered an effective rendition of Irving Berlin’s normally irreverent but here touching “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning”. And baritone Markus Beam, still a student at the Academy of Vocal Arts, delivered expert readings of songs such as Francis Poulenc’s “Bleuet” and Marc Blitzstein’s “Emily”. I was particularly delighted to hear some of Blitzstein’s music. So much of his output is completely forgotten, none more unfairly than his marvelous opera Regina, a setting of Lillian Hellman’s splendid drama, The Little Foxes.

Throughout all these songs, and many others as well, Laura Ward offered strong yet sensitive support at the Steinway.