by Michael Caruso
Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, opened its 10th anniversary season with a concert Sunday afternoon in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The program of music composed by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Friedrich Fasch, William Boyce, Antonio Vivaldi and Jean-Philippe Rameau drew an enthusiastic crowd that showered the period instruments musicians with round after round of applause.
The program was particularly well constructed. It revealed both the breadth and depth of the baroque style of the 17th and early 18th centuries. Vivaldi was Italian, Rameau was French, Boyce was English, and Bach and Fasch were German. Each brought both his own personal as well as national style to the music he composed, yet all five composers shared a common musical language of counterpoint drawn from the Renaissance.
Most impressive of all was the series of renditions given all these marvelous scores by the largest ensemble ever assembled by Tempesta di Mare’s co-founders and co-directors Gwyn Roberts and Richard Stone. During the decade since its creation, Tempesta has developed into the finest period instruments ensemble in Greater Philadelphia, and Sunday afternoon’s concert was the best I’ve ever heard the group present.
What worked most to elevate this particular concert head-and-shoulders above all others in Tempesta’s history was the level of ensemble. The strings – all strung with temperamental gut – were flawlessly blended and balanced. The woodwind choir of pairs of flutes, oboes and bassoons – all actually made of wood – were immaculately tuned and elegantly matched. The playing of brass choir of trumpets and horns was powerfully projected and securely ranged. And the timpani playing of Michelle Humphreys added just the right amount of thunder.
Happy birthday, Tempesta di Mare! And here’s hoping there will be many more to come.
Chief conductor Charles Dutoit and the Philadelphia Orchestra opened their 2011/12 season of subscription concerts this past weekend in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. The program boasted Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 1 in D major,” Sibelius’ “Violin concerto in D minor” with soloist Julian Rachlin, and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7 in A major.” Saturday night’s performance drew a full house, which rewarded the maestro and the musicians with hearty and heartfelt applause.
The evening’s principal work was the Beethoven, and it received the concert’s finest rendition. You knew from the very first chord that you were listening to music composed by the greatest symphonist of them all, just as you knew from that opening chord that you were listening to an orchestra playing from the heart of its natural repertoire. One should never forget that during those 44 years when the late Eugene Ormandy was the Philadelphians’ music director from 1936 until 1980, they were conducted by a maestro who was Hungarian-born and Austrian-trained. These two lands formed the heart of the same Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Hapsburgs that had nurtured Haydn (who invented the sonata, string quartet and symphony), Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler. Those nine symphonies of Beethoven formed the central structure of the orchestra’s substantial repertoire, while the Russian, French and Italian showpieces of the latter part of the romantic era were its spectacular decorations.
No wonder, then, that the ensemble sounded so much at home under Dutoit’s baton. From the very beginning of his now 30-year relationship with the orchestra, Dutoit always considered himself a conductor who worked his interpretive and stylistic magic through the distinctive character of the sound he elicited from his players – just as Ormandy had done throughout his uniquely successful tenure as music director. Millions of music-lovers all over the world bought those Ormandy/Columbia Masterworks albums for the sheer joy of hearing the famous “Philadelphia Sound.” And that’s the sound Dutoit offered Saturday night in the Beethoven performance.