by Michael Caruso
Chestnut Hill will be alive with the sounds of period instruments this weekend. Romanian-born Valentin Radu will conduct the Camerata Ama Deus in “Sempre Vivaldi” (Forever Vivaldi) Friday, Oct. 17, 8 p.m., in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill. Then on the following evening, Saturday, Oct. 18, Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, will present “Hidden Treasure: the Lerma Codex” in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.
Speaking of “Sempre Vivaldi,” Radu told me, “Vox Ama Deus (the umbrella name of all the ensembles founded and directed by Radu including the Ama Deus Ensemble and Vox Renaissance Consort) has had a wonderful relationship with music lovers in Chestnut Hill for nearly 30 years. The audiences are always warm and appreciative, and we especially enjoy performing in both of Chestnut Hill’s Episcopal Churches, St. Paul’s and St. Martin-in-the-Fields, because their acoustics are so flattering.
“Over the next few weeks, our three ensembles will perform in Chestnut Hill, beginning this Friday. I can’t think of anybody who doesn’t enjoy the vibrant, inventive, exciting and uplifting music of Antonio Vivaldi. Camerata Ama Deus will perform eight contrasting, sparkling works. One will be an orchestral concerto, putting the spotlight on the entire ensemble of 18 brilliant musicians.
“But Vivaldi was famed as the master composer of enchanting concerti featuring virtuoso soloists in dialogue with the full orchestra, so for our Oct. 17 concert, we will perform seven pieces that have dazzling music for solo instruments: the Baroque cello, Baroque oboe, the lute, two violins and the viola d’amore.”
For ticket information, call 610-688-2800 or visit www.VoxAmaDeus.org.
“Tucked inside the case of an organ in Spain for 400 years,” explained Piffaro co-director Robert Wiemken, “a precious manuscript was re-discovered in 1980. For Renaissance wind players and scholars, it was as exciting as if a chest of gold ducats had been unearthed. The manuscript contains a wealth of repertoire for the shawm and sackbut players who served the powerful Duke of Lerma at his ducal church in the early 17th century. Piffaro will perform fabordones, canciones, motets and variations on the hymn ‘Pange lingua gloriosi,’ composed by some of the most esteemed composers of Spain’s ‘Golden Age’: Philippe Rogier, Francisco Guerrero, Alfonso Lobo and Crisobal de Morales.
“The manuscript that Piffaro will perform from first appears in the church inventory in 1609. It isn’t clear whether the Duke provided it from his library or whether the instrumentalists brought it themselves, but there is some evidence for the latter. We know that when the manuscript was first inventoried, it was a lovely piece: parchment leaves finely copied by a practiced scribe and bound in blue velvet with red and straw-colored ribbons. The first leaf contains the coat of arms of the Hurtado de Mendoza family. Juan Hurtado de Mendoza was Abbot-elect of San Isidoro de Real in Leon, a wealthy church that would have had professional musicians, at the same time that Alamillos, the final minstrel hired for Lerma’s band, resided there.”
For ticket information visit www.piffaro.org.
RUSSIANS AND MORE
For their second set of subscription concerts of the season, Yannick Nezet-Seguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra focused on music composed by two Russians and one Armenian. In concerts performed October 8, 9 and 11 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall, the young maestro and the Philadelphians played Glazunov’s “Autumn” from “The Seasons,” Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto, and Rachmaninoff’s “Symphony No. 1 in D minor.” Saturday night’s audience nearly filled the hall and provided standing ovations at the conclusion of all three scores.
Although the program followed the traditional overture/tone poem-concerto-symphony format, it was anything but run-of-the-mill. Neither the Glazunov nor the Khachaturian has been a regular feature on subscription concerts, which is why both are included among those works not having been performed during the past 40 years. And although Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony was programmed as recently as 2008, its appearances on regular concerts are far fewer in number than either the Second or Third Symphonies or the Symphonic Dances.
There’s good reason for that, of course. While the Second Symphony is a peerless example of the late romantic style in Russia prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, and the Third Symphony and Symphonic Dances are flawless manifestations of Rachmaninoff’s mature style, the First Symphony rambles mercilessly among a plethora of splendid ideas not very well worked out or held together. Nonetheless, Nezet-Seguin and the Philadelphians played it superbly Saturday night, making the most of its surging melodies, luxurious harmonies and shimmering orchestration. Unfortunately, even a fabulous rendition can hide only so many of its deficiencies.
Aram Khachaturian, an Armenian born into the Czarist Russian Empire in 1903, wrote his Piano Concerto in 1937. Although its premiere was inauspicious, it eventually grew in popularity. The late Eugene Ormandy, the Orchestra’s music director for 44 years, and pianist William Kapell played it in 1944 and again in 1948, but it was never again programmed here. Although it has its appealing moments, even at their best they pale before the pianistic perfection of any of Rachmaninoff’s five works for piano and orchestra or Prokofiev’s “Third Piano Concerto.” All the same, French piano soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet made a convincing argument for its occasional appearance via his stunning digital technique and memorable musicality. On the negative side, there were more than a few lapses in ensemble between Thibaudet and the orchestra.
THIS WEEKEND’S CONCERTS: Alan Gilbert will conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Singers Chorale in Janacek’s “Slavonic Mass” October 16 and 18 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 17 at 2 p.m.