by Michael Caruso
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, ushered in the Lenten season with a Choral Evensong Sunday afternoon, March 9. The parish’s music director, Zach Hemenway, chose a roster of choral works that perfectly established the somber tone of this most penitential of seasons in the Christian liturgical year, hitting the mark musically within the parameters of the liturgy, offering simple beauty and beautiful simplicity.
Organ scholar Joseph Russell opened the service with a sensitive reading of William Boyce’s austere “Voluntary,” played on the small, “portativ” organ (literally “portable” as in easily moved from place to place) at the back of the church. There, the choir was waiting to begin its part of the liturgy with William Mundy’s “Introit” and Thomas Tomkins’ setting of the “Invitation.”
The former, both modal and polyphonic, was accompanied by Richard Stone on arch lute and Katie Rietman on baroque cello (both members of Tempesta di Mare), and was sung expertly and expressively. The latter is a sweet example of Elizabethan music of the late Renaissance in England, moving into major/minor tonality ever so gingerly yet ever so convincingly. It was sung with solemn dignity.
The two major choral works of this Evensong were Tomkins’ settings of the traditional texts of the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis.” The former offers a reflective sense of joy while the latter offers a much fuller harmonic palette. Both were sung with eloquent intensity. Even more impressive was Henry Purcell’s anthem, “Lord how many are they increased that trouble me.” Purcell was the glory of the pre-Handel English Baroque style, and this superb setting in Latin of Psalm No. 3 displays his talents for capturing both the external meaning and the internal feeling of the text. It does so as well as any anthem appropriate for the Lenten season.
Delaware Valley Opera Company will celebrate Broadway’s “Golden Age” with an evening of classic pop standards taken from the repertoire of Broadway musicals Saturday, March 22, 8 p.m., in the second floor recital space at Cunningham Piano Company, 5427 Germantown Avenue in the historic Germantown section of Philadelphia.
Selections will range from the 1920s through the 1950s, the decades when New York City’s “Great White Way” ruled America’s popular music and when the style was very different from that of today. Songs and duets from “Showboat,” “South Pacific,” “The Music Man,” “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Oklahoma!” and “Candide” will be performed. Chestnut Hill pianist John Dulik will lead an ensemble that will include soprano Elizabeth Oliver, tenor Tim Oliver, and soprano Sandra Hartman of Roxborough. The concert will be followed by a reception offering snacks and beverages.
Tickets are $15 at the door for this lovely trip down memory lane. For more information, call 215-725-4171 or visit www.dvopera.org.
Although the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts of March 6, 7 and 8 featured Shostakovich’s “10th Symphony in E minor” on the program after intermission, it was the piece that was played before the interval that was the concert’s highpoint. That is Beethoven’s “Violin Concerto,” a towering work and a virtual symphony with a prominent violin obligato. Nikolaj Znaider gave it a stupendous interpretation, and guest conductor Stephene Deneve accompanied Znaider well in the Beethoven and even better in the Shostakovich.
Znaider’s tone was sweet, his legato was seamless, his pyrotechnics were dazzling, and his command over the unfolding structure of the score was ironclad. Anyone who fears that “they don’t make violinists the way they used to” simply hasn’t heard Nikolaj Znaider.