by Michael Caruso
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, hosted the first in its “Five Fridays” series of chamber music recitals Friday, Oct. 3. The series devotes all its proceeds to Northwest Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network and Face-to-Face Germantown, two charitable organizations that help people in need make the transition from homeless shelters to housing of their own.
Friday evening’s performers were Astral Artists the Dali String Quartet, comprised of violinists Simon Gollo and Carlos Rubio, violist Adriana Linares and cellist Jesus Morales. Their program opened with Beethoven’s “String Quartet in G major.” It then continued into the repertoire of contemporary Latin American music for string quartet in keeping with the national origins of the players, themselves: three from Venezuela and one from Puerto Rico.
The Dali Quartet caught the exuberance of the Beethoven, acknowledging its respect for classical traditions yet highlighting its energetic pushing of the boundaries Beethoven inherited from Franz Joseph Haydn, creator of the “classical style” and one of his few teachers. Finely chiseled ensemble delineated the first movement’s engaging counterpoint, establishing a lively dialogue between all four instruments in which dissonances resolved convincingly. A broad range of unforced dynamics was employed, and balance between the voices was effortlessly voiced.
Among the Latin-inflected selections, the highpoints were Juan Bautista Plaza’s “Fuga Romantica” and “Fuga Criolla.” Conjuring up sonic images of Bach’s counterpoint, the Venezuelan composer created a sound-world all his own, and the Dali Quartet gave both works sizzling renditions.
The next installment of “Five Fridays” is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Nov. 14, and will feature clarinetist Benito Meza, cellist Christine Lamprea and pianist Pallavi Mahidhara. Visit www.fivefridays.org.
AT ST. MARTIN’S
The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, celebrated its first Choral Evensong of the season Sunday, Oct. 5. Fresh from its tour of England, the choir under Erik Meyer’s direction sang music by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, David Hogan and William Harris. Meyer, the parish’s music director, opened the service with the Adagio from Louis Vierne’s “Organ Symphony No. III” and closed it with Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Fugue in C minor.” In between, former St. Martin’s associate rector and current rector of All Hallows, Wyncote, the Rev. Mark Ainsworth preached a sermon recalling the church’s failure to preach peace a century ago during the years leading up to the start of World War I. Dubbed “The Great War,” it didn’t so much end all wars as much as it ended all peace.
The choir gave a solid yet sensitive reading to Parry’s setting of the “Psalm 145.” The spritely mood of Hogan’s “Magnificat” was memorably delivered while the haunting character of his “Nunc Dimittis” was effectively rendered. The singing was immaculately tuned and flawlessly balanced. Phrasing was eloquent and energetic.
I’ve been covering the Philadelphia Orchestra since 1976, so you can count how many “openings of the season” I’ve heard. Quite a large number – which is why it pains me to have to write that my first concert of the 2014-15 season, heard Saturday, Sept. 27, in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall, was the most disappointing I can remember in all those decades.
Right from the get-go I felt disappointed. I’ve always believed that the first series of concerts of the season should program only major works of unquestioned quality drawn from the orchestra’s core repertoire. Of the three pieces played Saturday evening – Borodin’s “In the Steppes of Central Asia,” Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major” and Richard Strauss’ “An Alpine Symphony” – none truly fit the bill.
The Borodin, one of the 40 pieces not performed during subscription concerts over the past 40 years that will be performed this season, offered lovely solos from former Chestnut Hiller Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia on English horn and West Mt. Airy’s Jennifer Montone on French horn. Unfortunately, it’s merely a minor work of passing beauty.
Mozart’s piano concerti, though undeniable masterpieces, have passed out of the regular repertoire of symphony orchestras that perform in large concert halls and over into the realms of chamber orchestras that play in smaller theaters or to those period instruments orchestras that can attract major soloists who perform on period fortepianos. The piano concerti of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff more appropriately fit the bill here in Philadelphia than one by Mozart. The miscalculation was compounded by having Curtis Institute of Music alumnus Lang Lang misinterpret every measure of the concerto’s solo part to suit his own need to attract attention away from the music and directly to himself. One felt sorry for the innocent Steinway concert grand that had been dragooned into playing the part of his hapless enabler.
While the late Eugene Ormandy, the orchestra’s music director for an astounding 44 years, lavished his legendary talents on Strauss’ tone poems, even he couldn’t make much of “An Alpine Symphony,” perhaps because the composer, himself, had never found a way to stitch together a convincing narrative line to all the score’s spectacular sonic effects. Without question, Nezet-Seguin elicited exceptional playing from the Philadelphians, but to what avail?
THIS WEEKEND’S CONCERTS: Yannick Nezet-Seguin will lead the Philadelphia Orchestra October 8, 9 and 11 in Glazunov’s “Autumn,” Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto (with soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet) and Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall.