by Michael Caruso
The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, marked the final Sunday of Lent before Palm Sunday during its 125th anniversary year with a Choral Evensong April 6. The afternoon’s guest of honor was the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the National Episcopal Cathedral Church of Saints Peter & Paul in Washington, D.C.
St. Martin’s music director, Erik Meyer, opened and closed the service at the organ, playing the first and last movements of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Sonata I in F minor.” Mendelssohn had been appointed “kappelmeister” of the German city of Leipzig, the very city in which Johann Sebastian Bach had occupied the same post more than a century before.
It was there that Mendelssohn uncovered score after score of Bach’s music in the city’s archives and at St. Thomas’ Lutheran Church, for which Bach had composed hundreds of cantatas for the weekly Sunday services as well as much of his finest organ music. It was Mendelssohn in the 1830s who launched the first “Bach Revival” by giving the first performances since Bach’s death of many of these works.
Mendelssohn’s discovery of Bach’s canon had a profound effect on Mendelssohn’s own music in general and on his keyboard music in particular, especially his music for the organ. His organ sonatas are considered the finest extensive contribution to the organ repertoire since that of Bach, himself. The “Sonata I in F minor” is an excellent example of Mendelssohn employing the contrapuntal devices perfected by Bach voiced in the romantic style of the younger composer’s own era. Meyer played the two movements of the sonata beautifully.
The two major choral pieces of the service were David Hogan’s setting of the traditional “Magnificat” (My soul doth magnify the Lord) and “Nunc Dimittis” (Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace). St. Martin’s choir sang both with exceptional purity of tone. Nicholas White’s arrangement of the beloved spiritual, “Steal away to Jesus,” received an even more touching rendition.
St. Martin’s will mark the evening of Good Friday, April 18, with a performance of Franz Joseph’s Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words of Christ” at 7 p.m. The parish’s musicians will be joined by the Lark String Quartet for the performance. Admission is free.
The clarinet is one of the most modern of all orchestral instruments. Invented during the 18th century and cast in two principal keys (B-flat and A) alongside soprano and bass versions, its range reaches almost as high as that of a flute and almost as low as that of an English horn.
In concerts April 3-5 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall, Christoph von Dohnanyi guest-conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in a program whose highlight was a superb rendition of Weber’s “Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor,” featuring the orchestra’s own principal clarinetist, Ricardo Morales, as soloist. Morales’ technique of tonal production was astounding. On Saturday night, he was able to scale the dazzling technical heights as well as the emotional depths of this scintillating score.
Von Dohnanyi’s re-arrangement of the orchestra’s personnel — cellos behind the first violins on the left, violas behind the second violins on the right, double basses at the back on the left — unbalanced the ensemble’s sound in “Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn” by Johannes Brahms. The work was a staple of Eugene Ormandy’s 44-year tenure as the orchestra’s music director. He recorded it twice, and both Riccardo Muti and Wolfgang Sawallisch recorded it once each. This time around it sounded muddy and inexpressive.