by Michael Caruso
The adult and children’s choirs of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, opened their season of Choral Evensong Sunday afternoon, Oct. 1. The event was particularly special, as it not only inaugurated the season, but it did so by celebrating the Feast of Holy Michael, Archangel, and All Angels, as well as welcome the parish’s choral novices into full membership in the church’s choir.
The combined children and adult choirs number approximately 70 choristers, and they drew a congregation of well over 100 parishioners and others to hear them sing a program of choral music by Jacob Handl, Richard Ayleward, Charles Villiers Stanford, David Hogan and H. Balfour Gardiner. The service began and ended with splendid organ music splendidly played: Louis Vierne’s “Triptyque,” Opus 58, Larghetto molto expressivo, at the opening Voluntary and Charles Tournemire’s “Improvisation sur le ‘Te Deum’” for the closing Voluntary.
The principal choral pairing of the service was the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” by David Hogan from his “Mount Saint Alban Service,” both set to English translations of the original Latin texts drawn from the Gospel of St. Luke in the New Testament. Both offer organ accompaniments, here efficaciously performed by guest organist Monica Czausz, an artist diploma student at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music.
Hogan’s setting of the “Magnificat” delineates the difference between celebratory and festive. While the latter can be happy in a rather superficial way, the former marks with joy a great event. That event is the Blessed Virgin Mary’s response to St. Elizabeth’s greeting upon Mary’s Visitation following the Annunciation to her by the Archangel Gabriel that she will bear the Messiah. Hogan’s score tells the tale with sumptuously overlapping waves of counterpoint that deliver the text with wonder and gratitude.
His “Nunc Dimittis” principally employs the voices of the men of the choir to recall St. Simeon’s canticle of thanksgiving at having seen the coming of the Christ as had been promised him by God. Here the tenors, so often the weakest section in any choir, sang the lines of countermelody with eloquence and clarity to enhance the principal themes presented by the basses.
Parish music director Zach Fritsch-Hemenway conducted both works with beauty and power. He drew singing of exceptional fullness of tone in the “Magnificat,” yet balanced that amplitude with a deft hand at projecting the music’s contrapuntal complexity. He sustained a remarkably slow tempo at the start of the “Nunc Dimittis” yet never allowed the flow of the music to falter or its inner tension to grow flaccid.
Fritsch-Hemenway opened the choral portion of Evensong with an exemplary reading of Jacob Handl’s “Duo Seraphim” (“Two seraphim cried to one another”). He caught the Renaissance master’s seamless transition from medieval modality to modern tonality with a delicate touch for its full-throated counterpoint and rolling phrases via a flawlessly smooth blend of the various registers of the choir.
Fritsch-Hemenway’s interpretation of Charles Villiers Stanford’s Anglican chant setting of Psalm 103 was a polished affirmation of the glowing beauty of the early poetic English translations from the Latin Vulgate. H. Balfour Gardiner’s “Te lucis ante terminum” (“Thee, Lord, before the close”) brought the choral portion of Evensong to a close in a rendition that caught the darkness of the close of the day with somber expressivity. He then played Charles Tournemire’s “Improvisation sur le ‘Te Deum’” on St. Paul’s incomparable 114-rank Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ with shimmering colors, dazzling fanfares and thunderous diapasons.
St. Paul’s Church will launch its series of “Five Fridays” of fundraising chamber music recitals on Friday, Oct. 22, at 7:30 p.m. The musicians, provided by Astral Artists, are violinists Nikki & Timothy Chooi and pianist Sejoon Park. They will perform Beethoven’s “Sonata No. 3 for Violin & Piano,” Cesar Franck’s “Sonata in A major for Violin & Piano” and Moritz Moszkowski’s “Suite in G minor for Two Violins & Piano.” Tickets are $25 for general admission and $5 for students. For more information, visit www.fivefridays.org.
The Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Richard Kaufman, opened its 2017-2018 subscription concert season Sept. 21-23 with a “live” performance of the soundtrack of the film “Amadeus” in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. The ensemble will return to the traditional concert format of overture-concerto-symphony Oct. 6-8. The program opens with Dvorak’s “Othello” Overture, continues with Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major” with soloist Emanuel Ax and closes with Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4.” Music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin will conduct.
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