by Michael Caruso
Two of Chestnut Hill’s churches hosted memorable musical events Sunday afternoon, Oct. 18. First on the roster was the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, which was the site of The Crossing’s first concert of the season. Entitled “Reprise I,” it launched a series of retrospective performances celebrating the 10th anniversary of the chamber choir’s founding by Donald Nally. The second was Choral Evensong at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, showcasing the talents of one of the finest large choirs in the region, led by parish music director Zach Fritsch-Hemenway.
The refinement of that singing was abundantly apparent in the performances given the service’s three major works: David Hogan’s “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” and H. Balfour Gardiner’s anthem heard at the Offertory, “Thee, Lord, before the close of day.” The “Magnificat” is characterized by a smoothly flowing presentation of the Biblical text ”My soul doth magnify the Lord” by way of shifting harmonic textures and dramatic changes in dynamics. Fritsch-Hemenway led his 60-member choir through the score’s dramatic narrative to its glorious conclusion at the “Glory be to God” with both power and subtlety.
Gardiner’s anthem begins with a darkly-hued organ introduction, played beautifully by organ scholar Joseph Russell, that builds in intensity through chromatic dissonances into a more full-throated tonality at the entrance of the choir. Fritsch-Hemenway elicited waves of choral amplitude from the choir yet never failed to articulate the supple pairings of the Latin text and its music.
Since I haven’t yet perfected the skill of attending two concerts taking place at the same time, I had to leave The Crossing’s performance at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church at its intermission. That portion of the program included Gabriel Jackson’s “A Prayer for Peace,” which was the first work sung by The Crossing Nov. 8, 2005, plus his “According to Seneca,” which was performed as part of the choir’s “Month of Moderns” of 2010.
In between the two Jackson works Nally led the world premiere of Stratis Minakakis’ “Crossings,” specifically commissioned for this anniversary season, and Eriks Esenwalds’ “Legend of the Walled-in Woman,” first sung by The Crossing in 2010. After intermission, Nally conducted “Breath” by Paul Fowler, from the 2011 “Month of Moderns,” and Robert Maggio’s “The woman where we are living,” from the 2014 “Month of Moderns.”
I’ve been a fan of Gabriel Jackson’s music since I first heard “A Prayer for Peace.” Its French text is taken from a 15th century prayer by Charles d’Orleans, pleading for the Blessed Virgin Mary to pray for all those suffering from the devastations of war, reminding one and all that some things never change. Jackson’s music, sung by the women in the loft accompanied by Ken Lovett at the organ, combines with mesmerizing conviction the contours of medieval chant that cuts directly to the heart in order to inspire the spirit.
Scottish-born conductor Donald Runnicles led the Philadelphia Orchestra Oct. 16 and 17 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. His program turned the traditional overture-concerto-intermission-symphony format on its head. He began with Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, then followed intermission with Elgar’s Cello Concerto with Johannes Moser and finished with Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn (the “St. Anthony” Chorale).
Since it was the Brahms that received Saturday evening’s finest rendition, Runnicles’ choice of order turned out to be a stroke of genius. The “Haydn” Variations have played a part in the Orchestra’s repertoire since 1907, and it was a particular favorite of the late Eugene Ormandy, the music director who perfected the famous “Philadelphia Sound” captured splendidly on stereophonic albums by Columbia Masterworks during the 1950s and 1960s.
I often forget how much I love Beethoven’s Eight Symphony — that is until I hear it conducted and played in concert as well as it was Saturday evening.
Moser was an admirable soloist in the Elgar. I’ve often found the score lugubrious in mood — which I did this time around — but Moser and Runnicles made the most of its brighter moments.
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