by Michael Caruso
Chestnut Hill was alive with music Sunday afternoon. There were so many musical events that I wasn’t able to attend them all. But I was able to take in the first half of a piano recital at Woodmere Art Museum and then drive over to the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill to hear Tempesta di Mare’s “Brandenburg 4 & Friends” concert. I’m just sorry I had to miss Choral Evensong at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, offered one of the most ambitious programs I’ve yet heard from the region’s leading period instruments ensemble. Surrounding Bach’s glorious “Brandenburg Concerto No. 4” were Vivaldi’s “Concerto in G minor,” Handel’s “Concerto Grosso in F” and Rebel’s “Characters of the Dance” in the first half, then Weiss’ “Concerto in B-flat” and Fasch’s “Concerto in D” after intermission. Actually, only a portion of the Weiss followed the Bach. Lutenist Richard Stone snapped a string on his instrument, and since the new string wouldn’t hold its pitch, the performance was stopped early in the first movement.
Although both the Vivaldi and the Handel are splendid examples of Baroque music at its best, elegant yet energetic, it was the Bach that proved itself the program’s finest score and received the afternoon’s finest rendition. Soloists Emlyn Ngai on violin and Gwyn Roberts and Priscilla Smith on recorders were the exemplary concertino, balancing their individual and combined tones against the full force of the tutti of strings, woodwinds and harpsichord. The entire ensemble played with such textural clarity that Bach’s stupendous counterpoint was evident throughout all three movements.
Over at Woodmere, Astral Artists duo-pianists Stanislava Varshavski and Diana Shapiro played a program of Ravel’s “Spanish Rapsodie,” Milhaud’s “Le Boeuf sur le Toit,” Debussy’s “Petite Suite,” Schubert’s “Variations on a French Song” and their own arrangement of Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.” I only heard the Ravel and the Milhaud before dashing over to Chestnut Hill Presbyterian. However, I was impressed by the playing of both performers, particularly in the Milhaud, a medley of Latin American songs. Here they conjured up all the fun of one of those garish 20th Century Fox Technicolor musicals starring Don Ameche, Carmen Miranda and Xavier Cugat.
Astral Artists will collaborate with St. Paul’s Church for its first Friday recital, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26, with Alexandre Moutouzkine. Visit www.stpaulschestnuthill.org.
Yannick Nezet-Seguin opened his first season as the Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director with three concerts this past weekend in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall and one on Tuesday in New York’s Carnegie Hall. The program boasted only one work, Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem” Mass, but his rendition of that single score powerfully made the point that a new era has begun for Philadelphia’s premier classical music ensemble.
Although Verdi was well known as a severe critic of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, the transcendent power and beauty of the music he composed for its Liturgy of the Dead point in a different direction regarding his belief in the faith itself. Verdi’s “Requiem” Mass not only encompasses the breadth and depth of the Catholic theology, but it reveals the human responses to these doctrines: the fears that terrorize the individual in the face of mortal death and the hopes of immortal life. If, indeed, the “Requiem” Mass is Verdi’s greatest opera — and its musical style is certainly more “operatic” than typically “sacred” — it’s assuredly a masterpiece, perhaps even the greatest of all settings of the Latin text.
But the evening belonged to Yannick Nezet-Seguin, and Saturday night’s sold-out audience showered him with wave after wave of well-deserved applause. Each successive time I’ve heard him conduct, I’ve become more and more convinced that he’s the musical savior the Philadelphia Orchestra so desperately needs and Philadelphia deserves.