by Michael Caruso

The Chestnut Street Singers, the local cooperative chamber chorus, will open its 2017/2018 season of concerts with a performance of “The Northern Wild” Saturday, Nov. 18, 8 p.m. in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The program features music by Rautavaara, Tormis, Korvits, Sibelius, Elgar, Esenvalds, Kodaly and Schafer. The concert will be repeated Sunday, Nov. 19, 3 p.m. in the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, 2125 Chestnut St.

The Chestnut Street Singers was formed in 2010 when a handful of local choristers met during an intense snowstorm and decided that the region’s music scene had room for a new choir. The goal was to form a chorus featuring challenging repertoire, cooperative musicianship and innovative programming, The group of choristers then decided to found the Chestnut Street Singers with a mission to offer unique concerts that are openly accessible. All concerts are “pay what you wish” at the door.

“The Northern Wild” explores a fascinating modern repertoire inspired by the visceral feeling of experiencing one’s own native wilderness. The season continues with “Where the Truth Lies” March 24 & 25 and concludes with “For Cherishing” June 1 & 3. For more information, visit www.chestnutstreetsingers.org.

DURUFLE REQUIEM

Director of Music Zach Fritsch-Hemenway, organist Christopher Jennings and the Adult Choir of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, performed the Requiem Mass of Maurice Durufle Sunday, Nov. 5. The afternoon performance was an integral part of the parish’s celebration of the “Commemoration of All Faithful Departed,” the contemporary Anglican liturgy that coincides with the Roman Catholic liturgy of All Souls Day, traditionally celebrated on Nov. 2. It directly follows upon the Solemnity of All Saints on Nov. 1.

Durufle (1902-86) set the “Requiem aeternam,” “Kyrie,” “Domine, Jesu Christe,” “Sanctus,” “Benedictus,” “Agnus Dei,” “Pie Jesu,” “Lux eaterna,” “Libera me” and “In Paradisum” movements of the centuries-old Roman Catholic Latin Mass for the Dead. At the foundational core of the music, the modern French composer placed the medieval Gregorian chant established by Pope Gregory the Great in Rome around 600 A.D. These modal melodies have held their inspirational place in Western sacred choral music ever since.

For Durufle, they provided both a harmonic and a thematic starting point for his own distinctive idiom of chromatic yet tonal harmonies. The texture of his music covers the gamut of monody, evocations of the first examples of polyphonic parallel organum and full-throated counterpoint. The choral writing is supported in the original 1948 version chosen by Fritsch-Hemenway at St. Paul’s Church by its spectacular Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ.

Its idiomatic setting of the Latin text shows Durufle’s ease working with the ancient language of the Church of Rome, and his unaffected delineation of the spiritual interior meaning of these texts testifies to his profound understanding of their intentions. The score charts the spiritual pathway taken by those left behind upon a loved one’s death from inconsolable grief to unshakable joy at the beatific vision of heaven. Durufle dedicated his Requiem Mass to the memory of his father.

From start to finish, Fritsch-Hemenway elicited singing from the parish’s Adult Choir and playing from organist Jennings that powerfully projected the composer’s air of mournful solemnity eventually leading to the bright promise of paradise at the work’s conclusion. Choral dynamics ranged from roared fortissimos to whispered pianissimos with every delicate gradation in between, all delivered with clarity of sectional texture, immaculacy of blend from soprano to alto through tenor to bass, intimate eloquence of phrasing and shining clarity of diction.

Fritsch-Hemenway chose tempi that mirrored the exterior denotation of the text while revealing its more personal interior connotation. Not one phrase was rushed ahead of its natural pace, yet never was an individual line permitted to draw attention to itself above and beyond its allotted place in the overall structure of the score.

St. Paul’s Church will host its next “Five Fridays” of fundraising chamber music recitals Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. Featured performers will be the Rolston String Quartet playing music by Mozart, Debussy & Tchaikovsky. Visit www.fivefridays.org.

‘ON EDGE’

The Pennsylvania Ballet gave local audiences a three-part alternative universe glimpse into its repertoire Nov. 9-12 in the Merriam Theater. “On Edge” offered two world premieres and one company premiere, poised as a contemporary counterbalance against its performances this season of all three of Tchaikovsky’s full-length romantic ballets. Of the three choreographies, one offered expressive revelation of the music, another offered poses against the music, and the third seemed to dash about in spite of its score.

My favorite of the trio was the first: “TILT,” with choreography by Helen Pickett to music by Phillip Glass. Featuring eight soloists plus a corps of six dancers, “TILT” delineates with striking visual movements, gestures, pairings and larger combinations the ways in which humanity comes into and slips out of contact with itself. Glass’ more mature style boasts music far fuller in texture than his earlier compositions and, therefore, greater emotional revelation. Pickett’s choreography not only mirrors this potent depth but also delves deep into it to extract its existential heart and soul. Among the principals who danced it beautifully was Germantown resident Oksana Maslova.

The company’s resident choreographer, Matthew Neenan, was represented by the program’s second world premiere, “It goes that way,” set to music by Laurie Anderson. It spends a little bit too much time making the rather obvious point that the straight-laced world is coming apart at the seams just below the surface.

Plus, its movements struck me as superficially chosen rather than organically conceived. Principal dancer Sterling Baca’s sublimely slow walk around the edges of the stage in a dark gray suit was probably the most challenging piece of choreography in the entire piece, and his was its finest performance.

“Episode 31,” with choreography by Alexander Ekman to a varied score, made a pleasant impression in its company premiere. Like the two other works on the program, “Episode 31” was interpreted energetically by both soloists and corps dancers. Both the quality level of ensemble within the company as a whole and the solo dancing have increased tremendously during the three-season tenure of Angel Corella as its artistic director.

Next on the Pennsylvania Ballet’s roster is George Balanchine’s choreography of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” at the Academy of Music Dec. 8-31. Visit www.paballet.org.

You can contact NOTEWORTHY at Michael-caruso@comcast.net.

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