By Michael Caruso
Manayunk prima ballerina Riolama Lorenzo retired from the Pennsylvania Ballet with two performances Sunday afternoon in the Merriam Theater. After a dazzling ten-year career as a principal dancer with the East Falls-based company, Lorenzo is leaving the stage to devote more time to her husband and two young children.
Her farewell appearances were in two works set on her by choreographer-in-residence Matthew Neenan. She was paired with Francis Veyette in the “Geek Song” movement of “11:11,” set to songs by Rufus Wainwright, and with Zachary Hench in “Keep,” set to music by Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov. In both works, Lorenzo displayed the rhythmic precision, clarity of line, and elegance of phrasing that have marked her decade-long tenure with the Pennsylvanians and assured one and all that she was leaving at the very top of her form.
She caught the sweet melancholy of Wainwright’s country-inflected lyricism – theatrically balanced to perfection against Veyette’s super-charged masculinity – and the romantic eloquence of 19th century Russian music in “Keep,” exquisitely matched with Hench’s princely carriage. While it’s true that others dancers will rise in the ranks to take Lorenzo’s place, it’s also true that her stunning beauty, immaculate technique and transcendent artistry will never be replaced.
Both Neenan works continue to appeal, although “11:11” shows the young choreographer more impressive in his command of large groups of dancers. Its full-cast finale to “Oh What a World” is splendidly executed and was superbly danced Sunday afternoon before an audience that packed the house to shower Lorenzo with adulation.
Getting out of the Merriam Theater a tad before four o’clock left me plenty of time to head back to Chestnut Hill to attend Choral Evensong at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. It proved to be the perfect way to end the weekend and prepare for the coming workweek.
Choral Evensong is one of the treasures of the Anglican liturgy. Based on the Latin Roman Vespers that was jettisoned during the 16th century Reformation in England that established a Church of England separated from Rome, Choral Evensong features musical settings of contemplative readings from both Old and New Testaments as well as surrounding prayers and petitions.
Sunday afternoon’s musical program included William Mundy’s “O Lord the Maker,” Thomas Tomkins’ “Preces,” Anglican chant settings of Psalms 96 & 97, Herbert Howells’ English settings of the Latin “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis,” Edward Balfour-Gardiner’s anthem, “Evening Hymn,” (sung in Latin), and opening and closing hymns.
Under the inspired and commanding leadership of St. Paul’s director of music & organist, Zachary Hemenway, and accompanied by organ scholar Caroline Robinson, the church’s choir of nearly 50 singers performed the entire repertoire with the expertise worthy of a fully professional ensemble. Pitch, tuning, balance, blend, diction, and breadth of dynamics were exemplary, setting a standard worthy of emulation by not just any other church choir but by any of the region’s choruses, period.
The next Choral Evensong at St. Paul’s Church is scheduled for Sunday, March 4, at 5 p.m. It will feature the singers from the chorister programs at Church of the Redeemer in Bethesda, Maryland, and Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia.
The Buxtehude Consort, founded and directed by baritone John Fowler in 2009, will present an historically authentic performance of Handel’s “Apollo e Daphne” Saturday, February 18, at 8 p.m. in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 22 East Chestnut Hill Avenue, in Chestnut Hill. Fowler will sing the role of Apollo and soprano Clara Rottsolk will essay the role of Daphne. Rottsolk and Fowler will be accompanied by a period instruments ensemble led from the harpsichord by Leon Schelhase. The program will also feature a rendition of Telemann’s Concerto for Recorder, Bassoon and Strings featuring recorder player Gwyn Roberts and bassoonist Anna Marsh. Tickets will be available at the door or by visiting www.buxtehudeconsort.org.
The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society presented Austrian pianist Anton Kuerti in an all-Beethoven recital Wednesday, February 8, in the Kimmel Center’ Perelman Theater. His program consisted of three sonatas – A-flat major, Opus 26, E-flat major, Opus 7, and F minor, Opus 57 (“Appassionata”) – and the Phantasie in G minor, Opus 77. In all four scores, Kuerti showed himself a pianist of the older generation, with all the plusses and minuses that terminology entails.
Although Beethoven was German, not Austrian, he spent virtually the entirety of his professional life as a musician in Vienna. The city was the seat of the far-flung, multi-ethnic lands of the Hapsburgs, known as the Holy Roman Empire until Napoleon Bonaparte dismantled it early in the 19th century. Vienna was a melting pot of many varied and even clashing cultures. Beethoven brought these many influences to bear in his signature works.
For Beethoven, the piano sonata was the “hands-on” form of choice. Prior to losing his hearing, Beethoven was an acclaimed piano soloist in Vienna. Even after the onset of deafness, Beethoven continued to compose for the piano. It was, in many ways, the instrument on which he experimented and through which his styles transitioned from early to middle to late.
Kuerti’s program featured one sonata from the early classical period – E-flat major, Opus 7 – and two from the more dramatic middle period – A-flat major, Opus 26, and the “Appassionata.” Out of the 32 piano sonatas, only five are considered “late” – Opuses 101, 106, 109, 110 & 111 – so it’s not always possible to include one in a survey of the three periods. Fortunately, Opus 26 & 57 are different in character, so the survey was both broad and deep.
By referring to Kuerti as an “older generation” pianist, I mean that he is less concerned with presenting a digitally enhanced photocopy of the score – that is, note-perfect – and more interested in projecting the emotional, spiritual and intellectual core of the music. The result was playing that was intimate and communicative rather than rhetorical and bombastic.
Yes, there were wrong notes and smudged phrases, but in spite of them – or perhaps partly because of them – Kuerti’s playing spoke to his audience by bringing the listener into his view of Beethoven’s music. He caught the quiet lyricism of Opus 26, the boundless energy of Opus 7, the tumult of the “Appassionata,” and the quirky spontaneity of the Phantasie. Might any and all of the movements of the three sonatas and the Phantasie have used a tad more tonal brilliance and textural clarity? Yes – but other attributes such as gentle phrasing adequately took their place.