by Michael Caruso
The Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players opened their local concert season Friday, Oct. 19, with a program comprised of five quartets composed by German baroque master Georg Philipp Telemann. The concert was given in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill and was heard by a goodly sized audience that was generous in its support for the playing of Philadelphia’s finest baroque period instrumentalists.
The works that were played are not “quartets” in the sense of the form literally invented at around the same time during the first half of the 18th century by Franz Joseph Haydn. Those “quartets” are specifically written for four closely related string instruments: two violins, one viola and one cello.
Telemann’s opuses are, rather, expansions of the baroque trio sonata, which interestingly enough never featured only three players but instead usually boasted four: two treble instruments such as violins or recorders supported by a continuo comprised of viola da gamba or cello and harpsichord.
In three “quartets” composed in 1730 and then two more written in 1738, Telemann took the cello out of the continuo and made it a solo instrument along with flute and violin. The Tempesta Chamber Players joined the harpsichord with a theorbo (bass lute) to fill out the continuo part to provide a fully voiced harmonic foundation.
The historic record tells us that Telemann composed his “Nouveaux Quatours” while he was visiting Paris in 1738. Obviously the change of setting from Germany to France agreed with his musical muse. The Quatour in G major and the Quatour in A minor heard after intermission are qualitative quantum leaps above the three works heard prior to the break. Although the Concerto in D major, the Sonata in A minor and the Suite in B minor are all well crafted examples of Telemann’s mastery of the German baroque style, the two selections from his Paris collection are among the most appealing and impressive works of the genre I’ve ever heard in a Tempesta program.
Not surprisingly, the five musicians played their best during these works. Flutist Gwyn Roberts, violinist Emlyn Ngai, violist da gamba Lisa Terry, theorbist Richard Stone and harpsichordist Adam Pearl all gave these two scores renditions that were both exquisite and exhilarating. They projected Telemann’s clever use of affect within his solid sense of structure. The music danced with courtly coyness within the context of seamless thematic development and harmonic progression.
Donald Nally and The Crossing will open their local concert season Saturday, Oct. 27, 8 p.m. in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The program is entitled “The Tower and the Garden” and features two world premieres: Gregory Spears’ “The Tower and the Garden” and Philadelphia composer James Primosch’s “Carthage.”
Of his new score, Spears has said, “’The Tower and the Garden’ is a setting of three poems (by Thomas Merton) juxtaposing the dangers of technological hubris (the tower) and the need for a place of refuge (the garden) in a world threatened by war and ecological disaster. Each text suggests ways in which Catholic thought and imagery might challenge the status quo. The work was written for choir and string quartet and was commissioned by a consortium of choirs including The Crossing.”
Regarding “Carthage,” Primosch has explained, “The deeply moving text by Marilynne Robinson that I have set in ’Carthage,’ my new work for The Crossing, comes from her novel, ‘Housekeeping.’ The text speaks of absence and promise, lack and fullness, and led me to music of both sober reflection and wild joy.”
For more information visit crossingchoir.org
The weekend’s trio of concerts by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Oct. 19-21 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall, continued the ensemble’s celebration of the connection between Leopold Stokowski and Albert Barnes. The program, led by principal guest conductor Stephene Deneve, featured scores that highlighted the relationship between Stokowski’s tenure as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Barnes’ iconoclastic method of collecting and displaying art.
The concert opened with Darius Milhaud’s “The Creation of the World,” continued with Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings & Timpani, and concluded with Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” In between the actual playing, the audience was diverted from appreciating the music by actors portraying Stokowski, Barnes and his art dealer, Paul Guilaume, as they mouthed reams of verbosity written by Didi Balle.
Fortunately for the Saturday evening audience there to hear the world-class symphonic ensemble that Stokowski created between 1912-38 and Eugene Ormandy perfected from 1936 until his retirement in 1980 (the two were co-music directors from 1936-38), Deneve led three exemplary renditions.
He invested the Milhaud with sultry jazz inflections, supported organ soloist Peter Richard Conte with swank aplomb in the Poulenc, and projected the groundbreaking savagery of Stravinsky’s evocation of the gently glossed-over human sacrifice in “The Rite.” Principal bassoonist Daniel Matsukawa of West Mt. Airy played the work’s opening bassoon solo with both technical suaveness and interpretive daring.
Earlier in the month, the Orchestra took a stab at reaching out to Greater Philadelphia’s Hispanic audiences by programming a concert that highlighted music composed within Latin American traditions. Granted – George Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture” has more of Hollywood than Havana about it, but it’s still a captivating score. And Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto, Astor Piazzolla’s “Tangazo” and Jimmy Lopez’s “Peru negro” are the genuine article. I was particularly impressed with the imaginative passion of the Lopez – and I certainly look forward to hearing more of his music in any context whatsoever.
Unfortunately, the Saturday, Oct. 5, concert was not well attended.
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