by Michael Caruso
As part of its continuing celebration of the 125th anniversary of its founding, the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, celebrated Choral Evensong Sunday afternoon, March 2. Invited to take part in the liturgy and to deliver the sermon was the Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf, retired Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island who had delivered her first sermon at St. Martin’s 40 years ago.
The two major choral works of the liturgy were the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” by Jack Ossewarde, sung by the parish choir and accompanied by organist Erik Meyer, the parish music director. The former, which recalls the words spoken by the Virgin Mary to the Archangel Gabriel upon his Annunciation that she would bear the long-awaited Messiah, is a lilting score characterized by broad variations in texture and a straightforward delineation of its text. The latter is sweeter and gentler in nature. Both were sung with delicacy of tone and eloquence of phrasing.
Gerre Hancock’s “Judge eternal, throned in splendor,” the offertory anthem, is a less successful work, and it received a less convincing rendition. Skating preciously close to the style of such Broadway musicals as “Jesus Christ, Superstar” and “Godspell,” its lanky melodies, pseudo-dissonant harmonies and dance-like rhythms didn’t sit particularly well within the context of the traditional Anglican liturgy of Evensong.
The score lacks the conviction of Dan Locklair’s “Hallelujah has been restored,” the organ postlude with which Meyer effectively concluded the service. No less efficacious was his performance of Dietrich Buxtehude’s “Prelude & Fugue in D,” which opened the service and was followed by that great Anglican eventide hymn, “The day thou gavest, Lord, now is ended.”
All in all, it was a memorable Choral Evensong, rich in the worldwide traditions of the Anglican Communion as well as rich in the particular traditions of St. Martin’s Church, celebrating its 125th year. The next Choral Evensong in Chestnut Hill is scheduled for Sunday, March 9, 5 p.m. in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. St. Martin’s will host a Lenten Evensong Sunday, April 6, also at 5 p.m.
Stephane Deneve guest-conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra Friday afternoon and Saturday evening, Feb. 28 and March 1. His program was a mixed bag and, not altogether surprisingly, it received a mixed bag of performances.
The first half of Saturday night’s concert featured a pared down ensemble that seemed more like a chamber rather than a symphony orchestra. The program opened with Igor Stravinsky’s “Dunbarton Oaks” Concerto in E-flat for Chamber Orchestra, followed by Francis Poulenc’s “Aubade,” a choreographic concerto for piano and 18 instruments. It wasn’t until after intermission that the full force of the Philadelphians was heard: first in 14 excerpts from Serge Prokofiev’s ballet, “Cinderella,” and then in Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” in its 1919 version. By then, unfortunately, the playing by the full ensemble was still so small in scope that none of the ensemble’s legendary tonal luster was to be heard in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall.
Deneve was wise to place “Dunbarton Oaks” at the start of the program and “Firebird” at the end, thereby lessening one’s realization of how far Stravinsky had fallen in terms of invention and passion. Whereas the 1910 “Firebird” testifies that the young composer was bursting with intensity and imagination, “Dunbarton Oaks” reveals a musician frightened by the fury of his own “Rite of Spring” three years later and in full retreat by 1937 into sterile neo-classicism. “Firebird” offers the listener a full palette of sounds and rhythms, a true feast for the ears; “Dunbarton Oaks” is nothing more than a penitential Lenten fast. Its dry munching received an appropriately inexpressive rendition; sadly, “Firebird” seemed too rich for Deneve’s baton.
Although “Cinderella” is no equal of “Romeo and Juliet,” Prokofiev’s masterpiece, it’s a fine work that deserved a more sensitive and evocative interpretation than it received Saturday evening in a far-from-full Verizon Hall. But no bag was more mixed than “Aubade.” Although pianist Eric le Sage essayed the sassy, jazzy solo piano part with fiery technique and scintillating panache, Tommie-Waheed Evans’ choreography was a disservice to the music and an albatross for the five excellent dancers who valiantly attempted to make sense of it.