by Michael Caruso

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, celebrated its final Choral Evensong of the season Sunday, May 12, for the Feast of the Ascension, the day on which Christians believe Jesus Christ ascended to heaven 40 days after his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Prior to the start of the late afternoon liturgy, organist Richard Spotts performed selections from Charles Tournemire’s “L’Orgue Mystique” appropriate for the Sunday following Ascension Day.

Under the direction of Zachary Hemenway, music director and organist of St. Paul’s Church, Choral Evensong got underway with Gerre Hancock’s “The Lord is in His Holy Temple,” music that maintains the connection between contemporary Anglicanism and the ancient traditions of the Church in England through its subtle recollections of medieval modality. The choir sang in delicate tones and with poignant lyricism.

The service’s three major choral pieces were Charles Villiers Stanford’s “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” and Gerald Finzi’s anthem, “God is Gone up with a Triumphant Shout.” Although both the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” end brilliantly with their settings of the “Glory be to the Father,” Stanford invested the former with overarching phrases of complex counterpoint while taking a sweeter, more intimate tone for the latter. In both works, Hemenway elicited excellent singing from his choir, and organ scholar Caroline Robinson offered admirable accompaniment.

Finzi’s “God is Gone up with a Triumphant Shout” is one of his mightiest works, a stunning musical setting for choir and organ of a festive text. Hemenway led the choir and Robinson in a rendition that was both magisterial in concept and thrilling in performance.

Although this was the final Choral Evensong of the season at St. Paul’s Church, the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, will celebrate the season’s final Choral Evensong 5 p.m. Sunday, June 2.

RATTLE CONDUCTS

For his second weekend of concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle conducted an oddly constructed but ultimately satisfying program in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall.

Of the four works performed, only the first and last could be considered standard repertoire: Anton Webern’s “Passacaglia” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s ‘“Pastoral’ Symphony No. 6 in F major.” “Three Fragments” from Alban Berg’s opera, “Wozzeck,” are certainly not commonly programmed by symphony orchestras nowadays since the opera itself is regularly staged by opera companies. And Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Mysteries of the Macabre,” from his opera “Le Grand Macabre,” was receiving its first trio of performances by the Philadelphia Orchestra during these concerts. And yet, this disparate quartet of pieces came together to form a concert that showed not only the breadth of Rattle’s repertoire but also the depth of his musicality.

Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony and Webern’s “Passacaglia” made perfect bookends for Saturday evening’s concert. While the former’s extended length is considered the opening of the romantic epoch in the Austro-Germanic symphonic structure, the latter is in many ways the culminating reduction in size to the barest minimum for the same form. Whereas Beethoven opened up the constrictions of Haydn and Mozart, Webern pared back the extravagances of Bruckner and Mahler. Beethoven allowed the beauties of nature’s sounds to enter into the symphony just as Webern focused in on its barest essentials.

As an opera lover who has seen “Wozzeck” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and by the Curtis Opera Theater at the Prince Music Theater – and loved it both times – I was a tad disappointed by the “Three Fragments” from the opera heard Saturday night, with soprano Barbara Hannigan singing the role of Marie. Even her over-the-top gesticulations – straight of a long-forgotten silent movie – and her small, steely voice weren’t able to convincingly place the excerpts within the context of the opera’s libretto. With the excerpts making no narrative sense, Hannigan was unable to make dramatic sense of her efforts. Hannigan was, however, far more effective in the Ligeti – literally a “hoot and a holler” if ever there was one.