by Michael Caruso
The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill was the site Sunday afternoon of a remarkable reprise. Piffaro, the Renaissance Band and The Crossing came back together to perform Kile Smith’s “Epiphany Vespers.” In 2008 Piffaro commissioned the local composer to revive the musical traditions of the Vespers Services of the 16th and 17th century German Lutheran churches with new music using old instruments. The result was a masterpiece of composition within the context of religious devotion. The revival drew an audience Sunday that literally packed Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church.
From my perspective, the most impressive aspect of “Epiphany Vespers” was and is Smith’s commitment to the powerful traditions of German Lutheran piety as expressed in music. Martin Luther, the great reformer of the 16th century, considered music to be an irreplaceable enhancement of religious worship, and he even composed countless German-language chorales to replace the Latin-language hymns of the Church of Rome, from which he was soon to depart.
But it was never Luther’s intention to jettison all aspects of Catholicism’s liturgies. Whereas the Anglican reformers in England replaced Roman Vespers with their own Choral Evensong, 16th century Lutherans continued Vespers with their mainly plainsong-based settings of the Latin Vulgate of the Psalms alongside newly composed German chorales.
The marvel of Smith’s music is found in its ability to sound both old and new at the same time. The timbres of Piffaro’s Renaissance instruments and the straight-tone singing of The Crossing recall the music of centuries ago, as does Smith’s sophisticated use of contrapuntal techniques.
Donald Nally, The Crossing’s music director and the interim music director at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian, conducted the Vespers superbly Sunday afternoon. The West Mt. Airy resident elicited flawless singing and exuberant playing from his musicians.
MORE KILE SMITH
The Delaware-based period instruments ensemble Melomanie will pay a visit to Chestnut Hill to perform local composer Kile Smith’s “The Nobility of Women.” The concert is scheduled for 3 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 15, in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave.
“I’m thrilled to be working with Melomanie on my new work, ‘The Nobility of Women,’” Smith explained. “This 20-minute dance suite takes its name from the 16th century dance instruction manual, ‘Nobilita di Dame,’ by Fabrito Caroso. The name alone captivated me. Although there is no other significant connection between my music and the book, I imagined a piece that would grow out of a work with that name.”
The program will also include music by Couperin, Hagerty, Boismortier and Telemann. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students and seniors, and is free for those 15 and under. Tickets are available at the door or by calling 302-764-6338 or visiting www.melomanie.org.
The Philadelphia Orchestra welcomed David Zinman to its podium Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 6 to 8, in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. Formerly the music director of the Baltimore Symphony and now the director of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, Zinman led a program comprised of the ensemble’s first performance of Michael Torke’s “Ash,” William Walton’s “Viola Concerto” with the orchestra’s principal violist Choong-Jin Chang as eloquent soloist, and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5 in C minor.”
It is almost impossible for Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony not to dominate any program on which it appears. It is the greatest of all symphonic warhorses and virtually guarantees an ovation at its conclusion as long as it’s given even a decent rendition because Beethoven’s genius is apparent in every measure. His mastery of form and structure, motivic development, rhythmic propulsion and stirring orchestration simply cannot be bettered.
Fortunately for the packed house in attendance Saturday evening, Zinman and the Philadelphians offered far better than a decent rendition. One might suggest that they presented a paradigm of how to interpret and perform a score that is well known to just about everyone in the concert hall.
The Philadelphians responded to Zinman’s baton with exceptional playing. One didn’t just “hear” the performance; one felt it.