by Michael Caruso
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, presented an organ recital followed by Choral Evensong Sunday, Oct. 26. The performance and service showcased not only the parish’s own remarkable musical establishment but drew upon talented musicians from around the country.
Prefacing Choral Evensong was a recital given by David Ball as part of the series of Ann Stookey Memorial Recitals meant to raise money to maintain the church’s magnificent Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. Ball, currently a graduate student of Paul Jacobs at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, where he previously earned his undergraduate degree, is the assistant musician at St. Malachy’s Roman Catholic Church on Times Square in Manhattan. Originally from St. Louis, he was the organ scholar at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, working under John Romeri, who is now the director of music for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul at Logan Circle on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Ball gave a tonally imaginative reading to Camille Saint-Saens “Fantasie in E-flat,” capturing the sense of whimsy in its opening section as well as the pyrotechnical brilliance of its more substantial second half. He then superbly delineated the shifting tonalities, swirling counterpoint and shimmering timbres of Maurice Durufle’s “Suite, Opus 5,” playing the Aeolian-Skinner with the ease of an old friend.
The Choral Evensong that followed was guest-conducted by Dale Adelmann, canon for music at St. Phillip’s Episcopal Cathedral in Atlanta. He had previously directed a choir retreat on Saturday for the church’s choristers.
Their having successfully worked together was apparent in the alacrity with which the choir responded to Adelmann’s direction in three daunting choral pieces: the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” of William Mathias and the anthem, “All Wisdom Cometh from the Lord,” by Phillip Moore. The first demanded and received flawless ensemble for its many unison passages arrayed against taunting dissonances from the organ (splendidly played by Joseph Russell, the parish’s organ scholar). The second, frequently unaccompanied, required and was given immaculate pitch, blend and balance. The anthem was set with layers of its text sung simultaneously – again terribly demanding and again performed with exemplary precision and haunting textures.
In a serendipity of scheduling rarely experienced during my regular concert-going, Camerata Ama Deus and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia provided me with an unusual but welcome chance to compare two ensembles – one playing on period instruments, the other on their modern successors – in the same repertoire. And even more appropriately, the two performed in venues of similar sizes – Camerata Ama Deus in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, and the Chamber Orchestra in Perelman Theater.
Janelle McCoy, the local resident who was recently executive director of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, explained, “In the Chamber Orchestra’s 50th anniversary season, we have programming that positions us squarely between past and present. Our original name was ’16 Concerto Soloists’ and, true to that name, the repertoire mainly consisted of baroque and early classical concertos featuring its musicians. Amazingly, there was little music of that era being performed then.
“In addition,” she continued, “founder Marc Mostovoy often featured works by little known composers and unknown works by more famous ones. This concert (Sunday, October 19) is a nod to Marc’s original mission. By showcasing the talented Hai-Ye Ni, principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, in works by Haydn, Vivaldi and Tartini, we brought the music of these masters to a small venue – the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. It is through this format that our audiences experience the richness of our repertoire: the proximity of the soloist, the fullness of our strings, the intimacy of the Perelman.”
Camerata Ama Deus originally intended to play its “Sempre Vivaldi” in the smaller confines of the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, but an error in booking forced the group to shift the concert to St. Paul’s Church. Not altogether surprisingly, the ensemble’s period instruments only fitfully filled the church’s wide-open expanses. One of the few selections that effectively did so was Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Cello in A minor,” with Vivian Barton Dozer as the soloist. She offered tart tones and eloquent phrasing.
Hai-Ye-Ni, playing on a modern cello, was not merely the soloist in three concerti by Vivaldi, one by Tartini and one by Haydn, she also conducted the members of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia in the historically correct manner of the baroque era. On the other hand, she projected a tone far fuller and a vibrato far wider than would have been the norm during the 17th and 18th centuries.
As a result, it was in Haydn’s magnificent “Cello Concerto in C major” that her best playing was heard. Her sense of ongoing drive during the first movement’s development section was salutary, she virtually sang the second movement Adagio, and she hurtled through the closing Allegro molto with technical polish and interpretive panache. I hasten to add that concertmaster Miho Saegusa led her colleagues in the Chamber Orchestra in sensitive yet solid support of their soloist. The tones of their modern string instruments filled the Perelman Theater without overwhelming the classical style of the music. They proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that appropriately played modern instruments can well serve 18th century music.
Vladimir Jurowski – for some the music director who got away because he preferred living and working in London to Philadelphia – returned to the podium of the Philadelphia Orchestra for a set of three concerts in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall Oct. 23-25. Showing his respect for tradition by building a program in the overture-concerto-symphony format, he led the orchestra’s first performances of Englishman Julian Anderson’s “The Stations of the Sun,” Mozart’s “Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major” with soloist Alina Ibragimova, and Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra.” While the first proved itself an engaging collage of beautiful timbres, and Ibragimova’s playing in the Mozart defined the term “boring,” Jurowski’s way with the overly familiar yet nonetheless towering Strauss was spellbinding.
With an absolute minimum of movements and gestures on the podium and, in their place, an intensity of focus on the players unrivaled by any of his contemporary colleagues I’ve seen conduct, Jurowski elicited playing of the utmost brilliance and beauty. It was a performance worthy to have been recorded.
WEEKEND’S CONCERT: Yannick Nezet-Seguin will conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Westminster Symphonic Choir and Academy of Vocal Arts alumna soprano Angela Meade in Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony Oct. 30 and 31 and Nov. 1 and 2.