by Michael Caruso
Valentin Radu will conduct the combined choral and instrumental forces of his Ama Deus Ensemble in Handel’s oratorio, “Messiah,” Friday, Dec. 13, 7 p.m., in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 22 East Chestnut Hill Avenue.
“If there is one piece of classical music that says, ‘This is Christmas time,’ it is Handel’s ‘Messiah!’ At least that’s the way I see it,” exclaimed Radu. “I probably formed this opinion about ‘Messiah’ because I grew up under the Communist dictatorship in Romania. At that time, religious works were banned from public performance. As a musician, I simply cannot go through December without performing ‘Messiah.’ And this December, with the Ama Deus Ensemble, I will conduct Handel’s masterpiece a total of five times in two weeks. I am blessed and excited.
“I thoroughly enjoy performing at St. Paul’s Church. The gorgeous, ornate woodwork helps produce a beautiful, burnished sound that makes every note come across with clarity and crispness. These excellent acoustics add greatly to the experiences of both the audience and the performers. In St. Paul’s Church, you can hear Handel in an English-style venue that would make a member of Handel’s audience feel right at home.”
Radu explained that the players (about 24) in the ensemble’s orchestra will perform on baroque-period instruments. The choir will be composed of 36 singers. The size of the complement is considered historically authentic for Handel’s oratorios.
For ticket information, call 610-688-2800 or visit www.voxamadeus.org.
Chestnut Hill organist Zachary Hemenway, music director at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill, was the guest organist Sunday, Dec. 1, for an Advent Choral Vespers celebrated at Old St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Society Hill. Hemenway accompanied the parish’s choir on the Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ that once adorned St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Germantown.
Hemenway performed two Chorale Preludes by Bach: “Nun komm der Heiden Heiland” (Now comes the Savior of the Gentiles) to open the afternoon service and “Wachet auf! Ruft uns die Stimme” (Sleepers awake! Now comes the dawn) later in the liturgy. In both works, he highlighted the principal theme without slighting the supporting counterpoint.
Starting softly, Hemenway built an impressive structure of counterpoint that never overwhelmed the plainsong theme and mood that always enhanced the text. Both singing and playing were heard to excellent advantage due to the church’s flawless acoustics.
English conductor and harpsichordist Richard Egarr led the Philadelphia Orchestra in a trio of concerts Nov. 29, 30 and Dec. 1 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. The program opened with Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” continued after intermission with the conductor’s own suite derived from Purcell’s music for “The Fairy Queen” and concluded with Haydn’s “Symphony No. 101 in D major (‘The Clock’).” The performance level began adequately in the Vivaldi, grew to admirable in the Purcell, and culminated with exemplary in the Haydn.
Standing on the stage floor rather than on a podium and eschewing a baton, Egarr conducted the Philadelphians in the Haydn more in the manner of a leader rather than as a maestro.
Henry Purcell (1659-95) was England’s leading composer until Georg Frideric Handel moved into the neighborhood with the coming of the Hanover dynasty of King George I in the early 18th century. “The Fairy Queen,” based on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” is among Purcell’s most accomplished scores. Egarr fashioned an excellently conceived suite from its music, and he led the Philadelphians in a stunning performance Saturday evening before an audience that literally packed the house.