by Michael Caruso
Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, continued the celebration of its 10th anniversary season with a concert last Sunday afternoon in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The March 25 performance fielded one of the largest period instrumental ensembles I’ve encountered since I first started covering the local classical music scene in 1976, testifying to the remarkable success Tempesta has made of itself over the past decade. What was once a small baroque chamber ensemble is now an internationally acclaimed orchestra that performs all over the world — and against all odds continues to record and release new CDs.
Sunday’s concert was entitled “Party of the Muses,” a name taken from the program’s final and largest score, Suite IV from Johann Sigismund Kusser’s “Le Festin des Muses,” here receiving its U.S. premiere. Two other works of the afternoon were receiving their modern world premieres. “Concerto grosso in E minor” by Gottfried Heinrich Stolzel and “Sinfonia in G” by Johann Samuel Endler. No Tempesta program would be complete without at least one score composed by its favorite baroque master, Johann Friedrich Fasch, and this one was no exception. Fasch’s “Orchestral Suite in F” opened the concert and will be a part of the ensemble’s forthcoming CD on the Chandos label.
The afternoon’s most memorable performance, however, was that given Pietro Antonio Locatelli’s “Concerto for Violin in B-flat,” featuring the ensemble’s concertmaster, Emlyn Ngai, as soloist. Ngai’s playing Sunday stands as a template to the development in the level of playing of local period instrumentalists during the 10 years of Tempesta’s existence.
Prior to its founding by flutist/recorder player Gwyn Roberts and lutenist/theorbo player Richard Stone, Philadelphia lagged light years behind other major cities when it came to the quality of our period instrumentalists. Right from the start, Tempesta’s directors changed all that by hiring excellent musicians who were also stellar performers.
Fasch’s music has been Tempesta’s special project over the years. Roberts and Stone have discovered, uncovered and recovered countless scores by the baroque master that were lost to one degree or another but that now have found second lives under their caring hands. His “Orchestral Suite in F” employs the full complement of players — horns included — and it sounded splendiferous Sunday afternoon before a large and enthusiastic audience.
Only a few weeks ago in this column I lamented the absence of the Concerto Soloists’ Sunday afternoon concerts in Holy Trinity Church on Rittenhouse Square. I wrote too soon. Tempesta is joyfully filling the void. Now if we could only get the group involved in the Bach Festival and then bring it back to Chestnut Hill.
Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, returns to Chestnut Hill 8 p.m., Saturday, March 31, in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave. The program is entitled “West Becomes East: Piffaro’s Journey, Part 2, Musical Sojourns in El Nuevo Mundo (The New World).” Piffaro will be joined in concert by The Rose Ensemble, a vocal group from Minnesota, and actor Dito Van Reigersberg. For more information call 215-235-8469 or visit www.piffaro.com.
Gianandrea Noseda guest-conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra March 16-18 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. His program consisted of three splendid works — Rossini’s “Overture to William Tell,” Prokofiev’s “Violin Concerto No. 1 in D minor” and Mendelssohn’s “Symphony (‘Scottish’) No. 3 in A minor” — yet the performances they received Saturday night were anything but spectacular.
Although Noseda invested a great deal of effort and imagination into his choreographic antics on the podium, the underdressed maestro did not put nearly as much effort or imagination into the textures of orchestration in any of the three pieces, especially the Rossini and the Mendelssohn, two works of exceptionally evocative scoring. Both the “William Tell Overture” and the “Scottish” Symphony are masterpieces of scenic tone painting that convey the inner emotional turmoil of the former and the scintillating joy of nature in the latter. And yet, under Noseda’s command, both came across as monochromatic sketches because the conductor failed to balance and voice the contrapuntal lines.
Although the Prokofiev fared somewhat better, it didn’t receive the interpretation it deserves. Balancing Rachmaninoff’s romanticism against Stravinsky’s neoclassicism, Prokofiev invested his “First Violin Concerto” with both lyricism and astringency. Soloist Juliette Kang (the orchestra’s first associate concertmaster) failed to achieve a melting tone in the slow passages and seemed to be laboring almost grimly to keep up with the technical requirements of its faster sections.