Not surprisingly, music composed during the baroque period — 1600 to approximately 1750 — comprised Tempesta’s program Sunday afternoon in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, since that’s the group’s specialty. But a baroque work also opened Saturday night’s concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. The work was the Chaconne from Bach’s “Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin.” Conductor Nicola Luisotti, however, led the Philadelphians in Leopold Stokowski’s arrangement for full symphony orchestra, which, in truth, doesn’t bear a whole lot of resemblance to the original. It actually sounds a lot more like Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” the score that closed the concert. Along the way, Curtis Institute of Music alumna Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg played Shostakovich’s “Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor” to make for an overly long evening.
TEMPESTA di MARE
The star of Tempesta di Mare’s Sunday afternoon concert was guest vocalist Michael Maniaci. He was heard in Antonio Vivaldi’s “Perche son molli,” Giuseppe Porsile’s “Le sofferte” and Carlo Agostino Badia’s “La Fenice.” Without their soloist, Tempesta’s instrumentalists performed Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Two Flutes in C major,” and Antonio Caldara’s “Concerto for Cello in D minor,” among others.
The terminology for Maniaci’s vocal range was mildly confusing in the concert’s program. At the bottom of the roster of pieces, he’s listed as a “soprano.” On the special insert, however, he’s listed as a “countertenor.” Both terms can be appropriate, but it’s rare to see them used for the same singer in the same concert. The term “soprano” merely refers to one who sings above (that is, higher in pitch) all the others, including either altos (male or female) or trebles (pre-pubescent boys). For the most part in contemporary parlance, that means a female vocalist, but not always. “Countertenor” refers to a male vocalist who sings above (higher in pitch) the tenor part, usually in the range of an alto but sometimes reaching up to that of a female mezzo. Countertenors usually, but not always, sing in a falsetto.
Whether you call him a “soprano” or a “countertenor,” Michael Maniaci can sing high up in the vocal range in a full, natural tone that sounds as secure as a rock. In all three of the secular cantatas Sunday afternoon for an audience that nearly filled Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church, he sang with consummate artistry, both technically and interpretively. In sounding something like an old-fashioned alto, he conjured up thoughts of how the baroque castrati sounded.
Co-director Gwyn Roberts was joined by Eve Friedman for Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Two Flutes.” They delineated the first movement’s quick changes of mood, caught the elegant delicacy of the second movement, and the high spirits of the third through expertly balanced dynamics and rhythmic accents. The afternoon’s only disappointment was Eve Miller’s rendition of the solo part in Caldara’s “Concerto for Cello.” Throughout most of the first movement and occasionally in the later three, Miller’s storm-lashed bowing offered many a rough tone and questionable pitch.
It was 100 years ago this year that Leopold Stokowski was appointed music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. London-born and trained as an organist, “Stoki” transformed what was then a third-rate regional band into what was then considered one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, symphony orchestra in the world. By the time he was succeeded by Eugene Ormandy as sole music director at the conclusion of the 1937-38 season, Stokowski had assembled an impressive roster of local, national and world premiers of many of the great scores composed in the early 20th century.
This season and next, the Philadelphia Orchestra is celebrating Stokowski’s achievement by programming many of the works that formed the core of his repertoire as well as some of those transcriptions of Bach’s music he scored for full orchestra. Hence, his full-blown version of the Chaconne from the “Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin,” which opened Saturday night’s concert.
Unfortunately, guest conductor Nicola Luisotti was not able to elicit from the Philadelphians the glistening sound Stokowski intended for the piece. Instead of the shimmering clarity from top to bottom of the timbral texture, the audience heard a thickness masquerading as lushness, negating the sonic impact Stokowski’s peerless scoring offered. Much the same must be written regarding Luisotti’s conducting of “Scheherazade.” A beloved specialty of both Ormandy and Riccardo Muti as well as Stokowski, Saturday’s rendition offered only fleeting glimpses of the brilliance the score promises.
AT ST. PAUL’S
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, located at 22 East Chestnut Hill Ave., will offer local music lovers two opportunities to enjoy music in one of the region’s most beautiful works of architecture. On Friday, Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m., the church will host soprano Jolle Greenleaf and pianist Christian Lane in a recital that spans the gamut from the medieval Hildegard von Bingen to the modern Nicolas White, with works by Purcell, Monteverdi, Gabrieli, Bach and others. Tickets are $25 and $15 for students and seniors. All proceeds benefit Face to Face Germantown, the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Northwest Philadelphia and St. Paul’s chorister program. Call 215-242-2055 or visit www.fivefridays.org. And to round out the weekend, St. Paul’s organist and choir director Zachary Hemenway will lead a Choral Evensong 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12.