by Michael Caruso
Chestnut Hill’s Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields celebrated both the 125th anniversary of public services at the church and “Candlemas” Choral Evensong Sunday afternoon, Feb. 2. The service, which drew a surprisingly large congregation considering the looming start of the Super Bowl, featured music composed by the parish’s music director, Erik Meyer. Presided over by the Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel, Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania, it was the most memorable Choral Evensong I’ve experienced at St. Martin’s Church.
“Candlemas” in the name frequently used for the more formal “Feast of the Presentation” by the member churches of the Anglican Communion. It celebrates the account in the Gospel of St. Luke when the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph present the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. The liturgy includes a blessing of the candles to be used during the coming liturgical year.
The most memorable musical aspect of this Evensong was its enhancement by music composed by Erik Meyer. The opening “Preces,” the “Magnificat,” the “Nunc Dimittis” and the “Responses” were all his handiwork. The “Preces” was harmonically lush and melodically elegant. The “Magnificat” boasts a fluttering organ introduction, then gently angular harmonies for first the women and then the men of the choir. The “Nunc Dimittis” is simpler in presentation yet no less memorable in its pastoral beauty.
Meyer opened and closed the service with organ music by Cesar Franck: “Chorale in E major” at the start and the Finale from “Chorale in A minor” at the end. In between, the choir sang a luminous rendition of Morten Lauridsen’s “O nata lux de lumine” (O born light of light) and the congregation joined Meyer and the choir for a stalwart singing of the great hymn, “Love divine, all loves excelling.”
Vladimir Jurowski, a favorite of both Philadelphia Orchestra musicians and audiences, returned to the ensemble’s podium Feb. 6, 7, & 8 to lead an unusually constructed program in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. Reaching back to the beginnings of the German repertoire, then leapfrogging over several centuries, Jurowski combined two works by J.S. Bach with scores by Strauss and Mahler, making a tonal connection between the German baroque and late romanticism.
Orchestra principal flutist Jeffrey Khaner was the featured soloist in the evening’s opening work, Bach’s “Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor.” It was a welcome change to hear Bach’s music played by a pre-eminent modern instruments ensemble such as the Philadelphians, since most of the time nowadays we only hear Bach’s music played by period instruments ensembles. Especially winning were Jurowski’s brisk yet supple tempi and Khaner’s dazzling technique and lyrical expressivity. Much the same can be said concerning the performance given Bach’s “Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor.”
Opera Philadelphia opened its production of Osvaldo Golijov and David Henry Hwang’s “Ainadamar” (Fountain of Tears) last weekend in the Academy of Music. I caught the Feb. 9 performance and came away mightily impressed by both the work and the mounting it is receiving. The opera is musically arresting and its staging visually compelling.
Based on the life and death of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, “Ainadamar” is a potent mix of text and music. Hwang’s libretto focuses on the horrific violence of the Spanish Civil War during the 1930s and how those vengeful excesses cost Lorca his life at the hands (or rather, guns) of the eventually victorious Fascists of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, whose dictatorship lasted until 1975.
Golijov’s score is a seamless blend of popular and classical styles, with flamenco music and dance sharing the stage comfortably with lush post-romanticism. The entire cast sang superbly, especially mezzo Marina Pardo as Lorca (cast as a female singer in trousers rather than a male).
“Ainadamar” continues Feb. 12, 14 and 16 in the Academy of Music. Call 215-893-1018 or visit www.operaphila.org.