by Michael Caruso
The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, hosted Valentin Radu and the Camerata Ama Deus in “Brilliant Baroque” on Friday, March 22. The concert drew an impressively large and enthusiastic audience that heard some of the finest playing I’ve experienced from Radu and his period musicians in several seasons.
The program included Vivaldi’s Concerto for Flute in D minor, Brescianello’s Concerto for Violin in E minor and Concerto for Violin in A major, Telemann’s Concerto for Recorder & Flute in E minor, and Bach’s Concerto for Recorder in D major and Orchestral Suite in B minor. In all six pieces, Radu elicited fine playing from his ensemble and some exemplary solo work, as well.
The “star” soloist of the concert was flutist Steven Zohn. He caught the lyrical eloquence and shimmering brilliance of the Vivaldi, nicknamed “Il Gran Mogol,” through playing that sang and danced with courtly beauty and rhythmic exuberance.
He effectively joined forces with recorder player Rainer Beckmann for the Telemann, a rare pairing of the recorder of the past and the flute of the future, for so fine a reading that I found myself wondering why composers abandoned the recorder as a solo instrument so quickly by the middle of the 18th century. The two musicians balanced their contrasting tones beautifully. The sound of Zohn’s flute was velvety and padded while Beckmann’s recorder was tart and pointed. It was an exquisite rendition.
But Zohn’s commanding triumph was his performance of the prominent solo flute line in Bach’s Orchestral Suite in B minor. His playing was technically breathtaking but always in the service of Bach’s sublime lyricism and intricate counterpoint. Radu offered expert support.
On his own, Beckmann gave a memorable reading to Bach’s Concerto in D major. His playing was characterized by elegant phrasing and biting energy.
Pennsylvania Ballet will present an all-Stravinsky program April 4-7 in the Merriam Theater. All four pieces on the program feature music by Igor Stravinsky, one of the transcendent masters of the 20th century. Two will boast choreography by George Balanchine, also a transcendent master of the 20th century; another comes from the hand of Jerome Robbins, Balanchine’s colleague at the New York City Ballet, and the final opus will be a world premiere by the company’s choreographer-in-residence, Matthew Neenan.
An inveterate lover of Stravinsky’s music, I had the chance to sit in on two rehearsals last week. Both sessions focused on the two Balanchine works, “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” and “Apollo,” and were directed by ballet master Charles Askegard.
One of the marvels of all of Balanchine’s choreography but especially that for the music of Igor Stravinsky is his ability to go far beyond merely mirroring the shape and sound of the music but to uncover the generative concept that inspired the score in the first place. In “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” with its jagged dissonances and edgy rhythm, the choreography is equally sharp and uneven.
On the other hand, Balanchine’s portrait of Apollo, one of the most complex of all the deities in Greek and Roman mythology, is surprisingly lyrical and even serene. Apollo was for both the Greeks and Romans the god of music, poetry, art, light, the sun and truth through his Oracle at Delphi. The only god whose Greek name was kept intact by the Romans, he was the ideal of “Kouros,” which made him the god of manly beauty alongside all his other attributes. His cult survived into the Christian era of the Roman Empire far longer than that of any of the other ancient gods.
Balanchine’s choreography depicts Apollo’s coming of age as the god of the arts through his complex relationship with the Muses. Askegard’s rehearsal technique during “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” was to focus on the rhythmic intricacies of the dance. His method in Apollo” was on characterization.
For ticket information, visit paballet.org
Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin stepped into the ensemble’s iconic repertoire this past weekend by leading three performances of Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 in D major, Opus 43. Composed between 1900 and 1902, it was first performed by the Philadelphians in 1912 under the baton of Leopold Stokowski during his first year as its music director. Stokowski’s successor, Eugene Ormandy, recorded it three times – in 1947, 1957 and 1972 – but Stokowski’s recorded “live” concert performance in 1964 in the Academy of Music remains the gold standard of interpretations in my book.
Although Nezet-Seguin’s Saturday evening reading didn’t replace that classic Stokowski rendition, it proved beyond any question of a doubt that our young maestro acknowledges his ensemble’s traditional repertoire and can elicit performances of it by the Philadelphians that can stand comparison with any of his predecessors.
Nezet-Seguin struck a sure-footed balance between Sibelius’ use of traditional Finnish folk tunes and his own original motifs in the style of those melodies on one hand and the composer’s peerless command over Austro-Germanic symphonic techniques on the other. And he was equally efficacious projecting Sibelius’ distinctive orchestration of glistening strings, guttural brass, accenting percussion and the purest of woodwinds timbres ever employed in classical music.
Not surprisingly, the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra responded to Nezet-Seguin’s inspiring work on the podium with playing of overwhelming power and caressing sensitivity. No less surprising was the audience’s response – a visceral ovation that shook the house.
Prior to the Sibelius, Nezet-Seguin led the world premiere of Hannibal Lokumbe’s “Healing Tones” for three vocal soloists, large chorus and full symphony orchestra.
The locally based vocal/instrumental ensemble, Lyric Fest, will present “Carol of Words: Walt Whitman in Song” Saturday, April 6, 4 p.m., in the Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce St., and Sunday, April 7, 3 p.m., in Roberts Hall on the campus of Haverford College. A host of vocalists will sing music by a host of composers, all accompanied by Chestnut Hill pianist and Lyric Fest co-director Laura Ward. For more information, call 215-438-1702 or visit lyricfest.org
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