by Michael Caruso
I spent a very “Chestnut Hill weekend” to start the month of November. The experience assured me that probably no neighborhood in the city offers a broader and more varied spectrum of musical events to attend right in its own backyard.
For example, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church hosted the second of its “Five Fridays: Concerts for Community” Friday, Nov. 1, presenting the Laughing Bird Quartet. Woodmere Art Museum opened the fall season of its Sunday afternoon classical recitals with pianist Di Wu and cellist Adrian Daurov in music by Claude Debussy and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Rounding everything off, the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields celebrated All Souls’ Choral Evensong later that Sunday afternoon just as the switch to Standard Time gave reality to the concept of eventide.
The Laughing Bird is a vocal quartet comprised of soprano Leslie Johnson, mezzo Jennifer Smith, tenor Steven Bradshaw and bass Colin Dill. For Friday evening’s concert, the group was joined by Chestnut Hill soprano Rebecca Hoke, a core member of the choir at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Reaching back into the Renaissance for its program, Laughing Bird sang plainchant and works by Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina, Carlo Gesualdo, Josquin des Prez, William Byrd and Beatriz de Dia.
The quartet opened the program from the sanctuary of the church with the Sequence “Dies irae” from the Gregorian chant setting of the ancient Latin Requiem Mass. The singing was purely tuned and eloquently modulated, offering a chilling evocation of “medieval” films such as “The Name of the Rose.” Hoke joined the quartet for a warmly well-rounded rendition of two madrigals from Monteverdi’s Fourth Book of Madrigals.
Although the quartet put its best effort into the singing of the “Kyrie” and “Gloria” movements of Palestrina’s “Missa: Sine nomine a 4,” the music asked more from a quartet than it could give since this Mass was originally meant to be sung by a full choir of men and boys in a large cathedral.
Johnson gave a splendid rendition to a song by Beatriz de Dia, the only female troubadour whose music has survived. Sung from the loft, her clear tones floated out into St. Paul’s Church’s resonant neo-Gothic expanse.
Sunday afternoon’s recital at Woodmere Art Museum featured pianist Di Wu and cellist Adrian Daurov. Wu, a Curtis Institute of Music alumna and an Astral Artist, played Debussy’s “Twelve Preludes, Book Two,” not the 10 selections from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” as printed in the program, before intermission. After the interval, she and Daurov played Rachmaninoff’s “Sonata for Cello & Piano.”
Wu and Daurov caught the sweeping lyricism and delicate melancholy of the first movement in playing characterized by an exquisitely balanced dialogue between the two instruments. They expertly balanced the brooding rumblings and sweet melodies of the second movement, projected the nostalgic romanticism of the third as though recalling memories of lost happiness, then brought it all to a scintillating conclusion in the fourth movement through playing that was both powerful and sensitive.
To describe the musical program offered at the Choral Evensong for All Souls by the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields as “ambitious” would be to sell it short. Opening and closing with movements from Bach’s “Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor,” singing settings of the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” by Orlando Gibbons, and following the sermon with Bach’s Motet: “Jesu, miene Freude” would rightly be considered ambitious for a professional chorus and orchestra specializing in Baroque music.
To think that this daunting roster of music was performed as part of a parish’s season of Choral Evensongs is a reminder of just how fortunate Chestnut Hillers are to have three churches within their borders (the others being St. Paul’s Episcopal and Chestnut Hill Presbyterian) that seriously take music to a professional level of accomplishment. Erik Meyer, St. Martin’s music director, led his singers and players masterfully and expressively.
Sophia Burgess of Chestnut Hill, a member of the Roman Catholic Archdiocesan Girls Choir, will take part in the culmination of Choral Arts’ Britten Festival Sunday, Nov. 17, 3 p.m. in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul on Logan Circle. Choral Arts’ artistic director, Matthew Glandorf, will conduct a program celebrating the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten that features his “Hymn to Saint Cecilia” and much more. More information at 215-587-3696 or www.cathedralphilaconcerts.org.