Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancers Oksana Maslova (right) and Arian Molina Soca in the preview of Sleeping Beauty. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev)

by Michael Caruso

The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, celebrated Choral Evensong Sunday, May 7. The service continued the marking of Eastertide as well as continued the parish choir’s preparation for its summertime residency in England.

Music director Erik Meyer prefaced at the pipe organ the afternoon’s choral singing with a finely voiced rendition of Marcel Dupre’s “Cortege et Litanie.” The work begins like an intimate work for a chamber string orchestra and then builds through unbroken lines of development to a rousing conclusion. Meyer played it with tonal imagination and digital dexterity.

Both the traditional texts of the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” were heard in settings by Carson Cooman. Born in 1982, Cooman is currently the composer-in-residence at the Memorial Chapel of Harvard University, having written more than 1,000 compositions before his 30th birthday. His “Magnificat” is a bright-voiced work of chromatic tonality while his “Nunc Dimittis” sets a more pastoral tone through modal harmonies. Meyer directed both from the organ console and elicited singing that was appropriately characteristic of both scores.

John Tavener’s “Little Lamb who made thee?” was the anthem at the offertory. It received an intimate reading that efficaciously balanced its dissonant passages with its more lyrical refrains.

Meyer brought the service to a dazzling conclusion at the organ with J. S. Bach’s “Fugue in D.” Meyer’s bravura pedal work sounded deceivingly effortless, and his command over the thrust of the music’s contrapuntal development was masterful.

St. Martin’s Church will offer one more Choral Evensong this season, on Sunday, June 4, 5 p.m., for the Feast of Pentecost. Prior to the choir’s departure for England, it will sing one final Choral Evensong at the Episcopal Cathedral of Philadelphia, 38th & Ludlow Streets in West Philadelphia, Sunday, June 11, 4 p.m.

PENNSYLVANIA BALLET

The Pennsylvania Ballet wrapped up its 2016-17 season with a program entitled “Re/Action.” Performed in the historic Academy of Music May 11-14, the roster of works included a commissioned world premiere, a company premiere and a series of pas de deux previews of the 2017-18 season.

Saturday evening’s performance began with the company premiere of “Rush,” choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon in 2003 to a score for piano & orchestra by the 20th century Bohemian composer Bohuslav Martinu. The ballet follows the music’s division into three movements, fast-slow-fast. It runs the gamut of emotions from scintillating to romantic back to energetic with movements and gestures that go beyond merely mirroring the sound and shape of what you hear to delving into what motivates those sounds to reveal the sonic via the visual.

Although the first and third sections were excitingly choreographed and vibrantly danced Saturday evening before an audience that nearly filled the Academy of Music, it was the slow second movement that made the most lasting impression. Wheeldon offered an intense pas de deus that paired passion and delicacy. The choreography was danced superbly by Germantown’s Oksana Maslova and Ian Hussey. The former’s clarity of line and the latter’s supple strength both balanced and enhanced the other’s work.

The evening’s finest example of classical ballet in all its pristine purity and impassioned structure was seen during a pas de deus excerpt from “The Sleeping Beauty,” one of the three full-length ballets with music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky included in next year’s season. The other two are the annual Christmastime production of “The Nutcracker” and the ever-popular “Swan Lake.” Of the three, “Sleeping Beauty” has often been overlooked. Since it’s my favorite of the trio, I was delighted to see even a brief glimpse of this musical masterpiece as projected via the choreography of Marius Petipa

And what a beautiful glimpse it was. This time around, Maslova was paired with Arian Molina Soca, and their performance conjured up images of all the great classical ballerinas and danseurs of the past. Maslova extended every line to its fullest extension without the exaggeration that might have broken its seamless legato. Her legs, arms and entire body formed an instrument of visual perfection that flawlessly delineated the tender beauty of Tchaikovsky’s peerless score. Molina Soca personified the prince whose kiss awakens Aurora from her century-long sleep from the very first moment he stepped out onto the stage. His every gesture spoke of a royalty propelled by an immaculate technique of spot-on timing and boundless power.

The evening’s most entertaining segment came with Kathryn Manger and Albert Gordon dancing “Tarantella” to music by the American piano virtuoso Louis Moreau Gottschalk as arranged by Hershy Kay and choreographed by the inimitable George Balanchine. If you’re ever bitten by a tarantella, you’d better hope that you can dance like these two because I’d bet the house they could dance the poison away. The level of energetic frenzy paired with precision ensemble electrified the house and earned them a sustained ovation that was rewarded by a curtain call.

No less enchanting was the performance given “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deus” featuring Mayara Pineiro and Sterling Baca to Balanchine’s choreography. Pineiro’s gravity-defying point work and Baca’s breathtaking leaps were spectacular.

The evening’s sentimental favorite was the “Pas de Deus” from “Rubies,” featuring Amy Aldridge in her final performances before retiring from the company. Set to music for piano & orchestra by Igor Stravinsky and choreographed by Balanchine, the ballet proved beyond the shadow of any doubt that Aldridge is leaving before her time. Her shimmering technique and sublime musicality have never shined more brilliantly than they did Saturday evening in the guise of the blood red jewel Balanchine cast before our eyes. Aldridge’s eloquent exactitude will be sorely missed – even in a company that’s dancing more beautifully than ever before in its history.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, will present “Summer: A Bohemian Rhapsody” Sunday, May 21, 4 p.m. in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The program’s highlight is a performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Summer” Concerto from his “Four Seasons” featuring the ensemble’s concertmaster, Emlyn Ngai. The concert also includes music by Capricormus, Janitsch, Finger, Zelenka, Rittler & Stamitz. Visit www.tempestadimare.org.

LOCAL SINGERS

Singing City will be conducted in concert by Anton Armstrong and Andre Thomas Sunday, May 21, 3 p.m. in the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. Among the chorus’ members are four local singers: M’Annette Ruddell, Deb Clarke and Marlene Graham of West Mt. Airy, and Gil Ronen of Germantown. The choir will be joined in concert by the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. Visit www.singingcity.org.

Contact NOTEWORTHY at Michael-caruso@comcast.net.

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