by Michael Caruso
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, began the holiest week of the Christian calendar with a Choral Evensong “Meditation on the Passion of Christ” Palm Sunday afternoon, March 24. Presided over by the parish’s rector, the Very Rev. E. Clifford Cutler, the service featured eight anthems sung by the parish’s choir under the direction of Zachary Hemenway, music director and organist at St. Paul’s Church.
The Evensong got underway with a beautiful rendition of Bach’s “O Lamb of God, Pure and Spotless” by organ scholar Caroline Robinson. The massive Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ at St. Paul’s is justifiably known for its romantic/symphonic stops, but not-quite-hidden in the middle of its 114 ranks lives and breathes the registrations of a baroque organ, and Robinson made use of them Sunday afternoon, offering tones that were clear yet warm, delineating lines with clarity and expressivity.
From the service’s first choral offering — Thomas Weelkes’ unaccompanied “Hosanna to the Son of David” — it was apparent that St. Paul’s 50-plus-member choir was in top form. The choral sound was immaculately blended and set out the score’s elegant counterpoint effectively.
AMA DEUS ENSEMBLE
Romanian-born Valentin Radu will lead his Ama Deus Ensemble in a performance of Bach’s “St. John Passion” at 8 p.m. Friday, March 29, in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. Several of the soloists have Chestnut Hill connections, including soprano Megan Monaghan, tenor Kenneth Garner and alto Jody Kidwell. Plus choristers Claudia Becker, Daniel Cantu-Hertzler, Elizabeth and Timothy Oliver, Andrea Smith and Tommie Borton Warder all hail from Chestnut Hill, while harpsichordist Bronwyn Fix-Keller lives in Roxborough.
“Bach’s ‘St. John Passion’ is truly exquisite music,” said Monaghan, who grew up in Chestnut Hill and now lives in Flourtown. “The beautiful translation selected by Maestro Radu will make for a moving performance, particularly on the occasion of Good Friday.”
Garner, formerly the tenor soloist at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill, said, “As a believer myself, it is exceptional to have the opportunity to perform a Passion on Good Friday. Bach’s interpretation of St. John contains some of the most poignant settings in its stunning arias.”
West Mt. Airy’s Kidwell noted the surprising harmonic and rhythmic twists and turns in her first aria and the similarity in her second aria with those “heroic” arias composed by Handel for his operas.
Tickets are priced at $20, $40 and $70 and are available by contacting the Kimmel Center at 215-893-1999 or at KimmelCenter.org. The Ama Deus Ensemble can be reached at 610-688-2800.
The highpoint of the Saturday, March 23, concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall came just before intermission. Guest percussionist Colin Currie jointed guest conductor Andrey Boreyko for a performance of Baltimore-born Christopher Rouse’s “Alberich Saved.” The work is a fantasy for solo percussion and orchestra based on the character of Alberich from Richard Wagner’s four operas comprising “The Ring of the Nibelung.” Rouse’s work offers a closing piece centering on Alberich after the final moments of “The Twilight of the Gods,” the final installment of “The Ring” cycle.
Boreyko wisely opened the concert with Hermann Zumpe’s arrangement of the “Entry of the Gods into Valhalla” from “Das Rheingold,” the first opera of “The Ring” cycle. He drew a warmly voiced, smoothly balanced sound from the Philadelphians that made me look forward to hearing Peter Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5 in E minor” after intermission. I was sadly disappointed.
Whether as a result of Boreyko’s rearrangement of the strings or simply as a consequence of his interpretation, I cannot say, but I found his reading of what is generally considered the finest of Tchaikovsky’s six symphonies to be poorly voiced. Inner melodies were highlighted to the point of overwhelming the main motifs so consistently that one is forced to suppose that the effect was intentional. Saturday’s rendition was ponderous.