by Michael Caruso
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill, presented the second in its series of “Five Fridays: Concerts for the Community” on Friday, Nov. 16. The featured ensemble was the Venezuelan-American Dali Quartet. The four string players performed a program drawn from the broad spectrum of the Latin American repertoire either composed specifically for or arranged for the classical string quartet, highlighting the close connection between popular styles and traditional structures in the music.
The Dali Quartet opened its program with the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “String Quartet No. 1,” composed in 1915. Divided into six movements, the score is a beautifully concise compendium of moods and emotions expressed in expertly chiseled counterpoint.
The Dali players projected a consistency of tone and phrasing that nonetheless permitted each individual musician to delineate his/her individual personality through complementary contributions. The music pulsed with excitement.
The Spaniard Joaquin Turina’s “La Oracion del Torero” (The Bullfighter’s Prayer), composed in 1925, is more rhetorical in style than I would have expected, but then again a bullfighter may be offering up his very last prayer. The work was played with passion and precision. The program was then rounded out by three expert arrangements of popular Latin songs and one encore, all of which were played with stylistic conviction.
St. Paul’s “Five Fridays: Concerts for the Community” is administered by the church’s music director & organist, Zach Hemenway. It helps raise money for “Face to Face Germantown” and the “Interfaith Hospitality Network.” The next recital is scheduled for Feb. 1. For more information, visit www.fivefridays.org.
Speaking of Chestnut Hill’s Zach Hemenway, he is indeed a busy man. He will be the organist for an Advent Choral Vespers celebrated at Old St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, 4th and Walnut Streets, on Sunday, Dec. 2, 4 p.m. Hemenway will perform Bach’s Prelude on “Nun komm der Heilen Heiland” to open the service and will accompany the parish’s Schola Cantorum in works by Arcadelt, Britten, Palestrina and Highben. More information at 215-923-1733 or www.oldstjoseph.org.
Guest conductor Stephane Deneve led the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Singers Chorale in a series of three performances of Sergei Prokofiev’s score for Sergei Eisenstein’s film, “Alexander Nevsky,” in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall this past weekend. I caught the Saturday, Nov. 17, showing of the 1938 movie and remain as unconvinced as ever at its inclusion on any list of great motion pictures.
“Nevsky” is such a heavy-handed, uninspired, historically fallacious claptrap of Stalinist propaganda that it almost manages to make “Birth of a Nation” seem subtle by comparison. But then you have to consider the film’s time. Stalin had just murdered between 20 and 25 million of his own people, either through the purges or the forced collectivizing of Russia’s farms and the resulting starvation of the Russian people.
Eisenstein’s propaganda film recalled the episode in Russian history when Prince Alexander Nevsky rallied the Russians to repel the 13th century invasion by the Teutonic Knights. Overlooking the complex layers of motivations characterizing the historical incident, Eisenstein depicts the vilest of bad guys defeated by the purist of good guys, with nary a two-dimensional (let alone three-dimensional) human being in sight.
Does it matter all that much? Yes, it does because to some degree, the movie’s ham-fisted approach affected Prokofiev’s composition. Perhaps the score’s most telling disappointment is its failure to coherently propel the story’s narrative. It’s little more than a string of loosely related orchestral and/or choral episodes.
All the same, Stephane Deneve, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Singers Chorale gave it their all Saturday night. Deneve elicited scintillating playing and gusty singing. It’s just a pity we weren’t able to hear the music on its own, sharing the program with Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” his true masterpiece.