by Michael Caruso
The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, hosted the Jenkintown Community Band (JCB) in concert Sunday evening, May 22. Led by music director Alex Schmauk in works composed or arranged by Holsinger, Reineke, Reed, MacRay, Swearingen, Christensen, Williams and Sochinski, the JCB proved itself a remarkably accomplished and powerfully expressive musical ensemble. Its playing belied its amateur standing. An added interest was its inclusion among its members (on trombone) Erik Meyer, St. Martin’s music director.
Among the concert’s standout performances was that given the solo alto saxophone part in Thomas Reed’s “Shades of Blue” by Angelo Guiliano, a senior at nearby LaSalle College High School. Guiliano caught the score’s heady mix of sultry lyricism and syncopated rhythms. No less well played was Robert MacRay’s “An All-American Suite” and Steven Reineke’s “River of Life.” In all three selections Schmauk elicited playing of admirable balance and impressive ensemble that was engaging and entertaining.
Chestnut Hill’s favorite baroque instruments ensemble, Tempesta di Mare, brought its 2015-16 season of concerts to a delightful finale Saturday, May 21, in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. The program was entitled “Handel & His Frenemies” and focused on that “other” titan of the Baroque style.
If George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) shared not just an era but also a year of birth with any other composer than Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), he would be regarded as a classical music genius whose only equal would be Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). With the other possible exceptions of Haydn, Mozart and Schubert, Handel would have no peers. But then there’s J.S. Bach — and no one else. Bach’s music achieves a level of technical mastery, consummate artistry and spiritual profundity that places it in a realm occupied by no other composer.
And yet, Bach’s supremacy in no way diminishes the sublime beauty of Handel’s music. His Italian-language operas are among the most ravishing scores ever composed; his instrumental music is among the most idiomatic ever written, and his oratorios — most obviously “Messiah” — are among the greatest artistic triumphs in any and all genres. In fact, on his deathbed, when Beethoven was given by a student the gift of the recently published works of Handel, he remarked, “He is a master from whom we can all still learn.” And whose music we can all still enjoy.
Tempesta artistic co-directors Gwyn Roberts & Richard Stone wisely chose to conclude each half of Saturday’s concert with a work by Handel: the “Concerto Grosso in E minor” to end the first half and the “Suite from the opera ‘Il Pastor Fido’” (The Faithful Shepherd) to bring the entire concert to a close.
It was in the Suite that Saturday evening’s audience heard Handel at his best. His supreme gift for melody, inventive yet sensitive use of harmony and rock solid command over form and structure were all on display throughout the Suite’s 11 movements. In its own way, this Suite is every bit as much a masterpiece as any of Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concerti — different, of course but equal.
What made Handel’s mastery all the more apparent was the splendid performance the score received from the 20-member ensemble Tempesta di Mare fielded on the Perelman’s stage. Concertmaster Emlyn Ngai led the strings with both a firm yet sensitive hand while harpsichordist Adam Pearl and theorbist Stone provided the foundation for the flutes and oboes to offer their piquant charms. The playing of Roberts on flute and Stephen Bard on oboe were especially noteworthy for their sensuous lyricism.
The “Concerto Grosso in E minor” as well as works by contemporaries Reinhard Keiser, Giovanni Bononcini, Maurice Greene, John Pepusch and Thomas Arne were also given expert renditions, but it was the playing of the Suite that most impressed me Saturday evening – and that sparked my fond memories of the Sunday afternoon concerts in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square by members of the former Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia. They were once among the highlights of the local classical music season. Perhaps Tempesta can bring them back.
NEXT SEASON: Tempesta di Mare will perform seven concerts next season in Chestnut Hill. Four take place in the main sanctuary of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. They are: “A Chill in the Air” Sunday, Oct. 23, 4 p.m.; “A Cozy Noel” Friday, Dec. 9, 8 p.m.; “Sara and Her Sisters” Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, 4 p.m.; and “A Bohemian Rhapsody” Sunday, May 21, 4 p.m. Two “Artist Recitals” are set for the Church’s Chapel: Saturday, Nov. 5, 5 p.m., and Saturday, April 22, 5 p.m. A third recital will be given Saturday, Feb. 4, 5 p.m., at Woodmere Art Museum. Call 215-755-8776 or visit www.tempestadimare.org.