by Michael Caruso
The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill presented “Winds of Yore…and Now!” Saturday, Feb. 23. The oddly named concert paired Piffaro, the Renaissance Wind Band, with Orchestra 2001, the longstanding ensemble specializing in contemporary music, in a program of music both old and new. Some things worked; others did not.
The concert opened with the brass and woodwind players from both ensembles playing Banchieri’s “La Battaglia,” Lassus’ “Hor che la nuova e vaga primavera” and Gabrieli’s “Salvator noster.” Piffaro’s older instruments functioned very much in the tradition of the concertino in the baroque concerto grosso, with Orchestra 2001’s modern instruments surrounding those bright, tart tones with their more mellow fullness as the concerto grosso’s tutti.
Arne Running’s “Renaissance Redux” featured a brass quintet from Orchestra 2001. The three-movement work came across like a suite derived from a film score for a motion picture set in the Renaissance, such as Franco Zeffirelli’s Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton vehicle, “The Taming of the Shrew.” That movie’s score was composed by Nino Rota, an alumnus of Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Running’s piece fell far short of Rota’s exalted standard – and it was played rather noisily Saturday evening.
Orchestra 2001’s director, James Freeman, led brass and woodwind players in three selections by P.D.Q. Bach (a.k.a. Peter Schickle): “Fanfare for the Common Cold,” “Canzon per Sonar a Sei –Count Them – Sei” and “Echo Sonata for Two Unfriendly Groups of Instruments.” Although Schickle’s dialogue is now so hopelessly dated as to elicit nothing more than an embarrassed giggle, the music itself makes good-spirited fun of baroque traditions. All three pieces received delightful renditions.
The two most interesting portions of the program came on either side of its intermission. Prior to the interval, Piffaro’s shawms, sackbuts and dulcians played Kile Smith’s “Redtail and Hummingbird.” Following the break, it was the chance for a brass quintet plus bassoon from Orchestra 2001 to perform the Philadelphia-based composer’s score. Piffaro’s musicians played without a conductor while Smith led the modern players.
Piffaro then paired an excerpt from Smith’s “Vespers” (commissioned in 2007) with Praetorius’ “Christ lad in Todesbanden.” Played from the church’s loft, the sound of the old instruments floated out over the audience as it must have done in centuries past in the Praetorius and with a sweetness in the Smith that reminded me just how lovely a work his “Vespers” truly is. Soprano Julienne Baird joined Piffaro for a delicate rendition of Cavalli’s “Delizie contente che l’ame beate,” but Orchestra 2001’s reading of Jacob Druckman’s fantasy on the old score seemed to take longer than the centuries between Cavalli’s death in 1676 and the date of the concert. Perhaps I’ve repressed the memory of it, but I can’t recall hearing a duller piece of drivel.
Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum presented flutist Lisamarie McGrath and cellist Jeffrey Solow in recital Sunday, Feb. 24. Their program opened with Solow’s own transcription for flute and cello of Beethoven’s “Sonata for Two Flutes,” continued with Telemann’s “Sonata in E minor,” Villa-Lobos’ “Assobiio a Jato,” three preludes drawn from Bach’s “Suites for Solo Cello,” and concluded with Yuko Uebayashi’s “Suite for Flute and Violincello.”
Solow explained that Beethoven composed his “Sonata for Two Flutes” just prior to leaving his native Bonn for Vienna in 1792. Although there were a few awkward moments due to the cello’s range falling so far lower than that of the second flute part, McGrath’s tone was appealing.
McGrath and Solow were heard to better advantage in the Telemann. Although the composer is often considered merely a journeyman compared to contemporaries Bach or Handel, the “Sonata in E minor” is a lovely score, and both musicians played it strongly yet sensitively.
Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in a splendid performance of Stravinsky’s seminal “The Rite of Spring” Saturday, March 2, in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. The full score, whose Paris premiere in 1913 caused an actual riot in the theater, was enthusiastically received by an audience that packed the house.
One hesitates to write about Nezet-Seguin’s charisma for fear of slighting his incredible musical talents, but it’s amazing how powerfully his personality crosses over the stage and out into the auditorium and electrifies an audience, eliciting an ovation for the young maestro by his simply walking out to the podium. It happened Saturday evening. Fortunately for everyone concerned, his interpretive gifts backed by technical prowess surpass his star-power.