by Michael Caruso
West Mt. Airy mezzo-soprano Jody Kidwell and pianist Jeffrey Uhlig joined forces to present a voice-and-piano recital Sunday afternoon, Nov. 19, in the historic Mary Louise Curtis Branch of Settlement Music School in the Queen Village section of the city. The performance was the annual “Karin Fuller Capanna” faculty recital in memory of the late wife of Robert Capanna, local composer and former executive director of Settlement Music School.
Kidwell and Uhlig offered a program that spanned several centuries and a variety of styles. They opened with Maurice Ravel’s 20th century “Deux melodies hebraiques,” then jumped backward in time to the 18th century for “Frondi tenere…Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s opera, “Serse.” Then back to France and the late 19th century for four chansons by Gabriel Faure.
Uhlig soloed in the still-kicking American William Bolcom’s “Graceful Ghost Rag.” He was rejoined by Kidwell for six of Bolcom’s “Cabaret Songs.” Kidwell and Uhlig brought the program to a snappy finale with three selections (and one encore) taken from the repertoire of the Broadway musical: Stephen Sondheim’s “Everybody Says No” from “Anyone Can Whistle” and “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music.” Plus “Turn Back, O Man” from Stephen Schwartz’s “Godspell.” The single encore was “With so little to be sure of,” also from “Anyone Can Whistle.”
Kidwell’s singing was characterized by an almost extravagant fullness of tone. And yet that tonal amplitude was always placed at the service of the music because the singer never failed to place the music at the service of the lyrics. Kidwell’s diction was always focused on the sound of the words, then on their immediate meaning, and last and most important of all, on their emotional revelation. As a result, her singing not merely created a complete universe from each individual number but brought that world into the life of her listeners.
Uhlig elicited the warmest tones and most kaleidoscopic spectrum of colors from Settlement’s Baldwin concert grand piano I’ve heard since the retirement of the legendary Artur Rubinstein in 1977. The result was accompanying of orchestral magnitude.
Their finest work was heard in “Send in the Clowns.” Kidwell’s chest tones are so secure and naturally projected that she was able to sing this Broadway show tune without resorting to belting, catching its stripped-bare honesty and sharing it without reservation. Uhlig took Sondheim’s spare piano accompaniment and wove a delicate web of singing legato out of it to support Kidwell’s vocalism with nary a hint of the piano’s percussive mechanism. Together they turned a pop standard into a gem of an art song.
Romanian-born Valentin Radu and the Camerata Ama Deus performed “Antonio Vivaldi: Il Maestro Veneziano” Nov. 10 & 12. The first concert took place in the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill; the second in the Great Hall of Thomas Library, Bryn Mawr College. The program of six concerti by the Venetian master – four for solo instrument, two for two – received engaging renditions that more than explained Vivaldi’s enduring popularity well beyond the realm of period instruments devotees.
Along with Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), Antonio Vivaldi (1678 -1741) forms a trinity of baroque composers beloved the world over. Whereas Bach’s music is texturally contrapuntal and deeply spiritual and Handel’s is peerlessly lyrical and operatically flamboyant, Vivaldi’s output is dazzlingly virtuosic. His countless concerti highlight the capabilities of the solo instrument(s) via shimmering timbres and digital flights of fancy.
Recorder player Rainer Beckmann was the compelling soloist in the Concerti in F major and G minor and also joined violinist Thomas DiSarlo in the Duo Concerto in G minor. DiSarlo and cellist Vivian Barton Dozer were heard to fine advantage in the Duo Concerto in A major, and Paul Miller played beautifully in the Concerto for Viola d’amore in D minor. DiSarlo rounded out the program with the Violin Concerto in B minor.
Valentin Radu will return to Chestnut Hill for a pair of stellar concerts during the holiday season. Vox Ama Deus will perform Handel’s “Messiah” Friday, Dec. 1, at 7 p.m. in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Then, on Friday, Dec. 8, at 8 p.m., the Vox Renaissance Consort will present “Renaissance Noel” also at St. Paul’s Church. Visit www.VoxAmaDeus.org.
Music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir and a trio of vocal soloists in performances of Haydn’s oratorio, “The Seasons,” Nov. 16, 17 & 18 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. These were the Orchestra’s first performances of this late score by the Austrian master of the classical style. While it cannot be denied that Nezet-Seguin made a powerful argument for its more frequent inclusion in the Philadelphians’ repertoire of major choral works, his efforts weren’t altogether persuasive for its joining the standard canon of such massive scores.
The principal problem with “The Seasons” is its lack of a concise and consistent narrative. For most of its two-hour-plus length, the “seasons” of its title refers to those four divisions of the 12 months of the year: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. But by the conclusion of Winter, the tone dramatically shifts, and the libretto switches focus to the various divisions of a person’s life.
And, most jarring of all, Winter ends with not so much the promise of Spring but the assurance of Life Eternal in Heaven. All well and good, of course, but that’s not how we began this musical – now spiritual – journey. It might have worked better if there were more pointed premonitions of its final spirituality earlier in the libretto. But minus substantial hints regarding its profound change of tone, it’s difficult for the listener not to feel a bit like the victim of “bait and switch.”
All the more the pity since Haydn composed some of his most evocative orchestral writing and idiomatic solo vocal writing for “The Seasons.” And while his choral writing assuredly doesn’t match up to that of Handel, Bach, Mozart or Brahms, it’s exceptionally beautiful.
Nezet-Seguin harnessed the vast resources of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir and soprano Regula Muhlemann, tenor Wener Gura and bass Matthew Rose with a commanding eye for overall structure and a sensitive touch for details. Of the vocal soloists, Rose’s singing was the most memorable. An alumnus of the Curtis Institute of Music, he sang with imposing resonance and surprisingly agility.
The previous weekend, Nov. 9-11, Nezet-Seguin led the Orchestra in performances of Bach’s Second Violin Concerto and Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. Concertmaster David Kim was the indifferent soloist in the Bach – neither stylistic nor virtuosic – and the Bruckner’s expansive form and excessive length defied even Nezet-Seguin’s capable baton.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the piano faculty at Settlement Music School. You can contact NOTEWORTHY at Michaelfirstname.lastname@example.org.