Yannick Nezet-Seguin, director of the Philadelphia Orchestra (photo by Jessica Griffin)

by Michael Caruso

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, celebrated the “Conversion of St. Paul” with a Choral Evensong Sunday, Jan. 26. Music director Andrew Kotylo led a program of works mostly composed by Herbert Howells.

St. Paul, the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” was one of the greatest missionaries in history. His travels took him to the far corners of the ancient Roman Empire. He and St. Peter, the “Prince of the Apostles,” are the patron saints of the “Eternal City” of Rome. Interestingly, St. Paul is the patron saint of London’s great cathedral, from which the Bishop of London sent out Anglican missionaries across the British Empire.

Kotylo bracketed the service with stunning performances of Howell’s “Rhapsody in D-flat” at the prelude and “Paean” at the postlude at the organ. His choices of registration were symphonic in scope. The choir sang the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” from Howell’s “Saint Paul’s Service” beautifully, catching the extravagant emotions of the former and the darkening glow of the latter. William Mathias’ dazzling “Let the People Praise Thee, O God” was the anthem at the Offertory. It was sung with power and poignancy.

EVENSONG & VESPERS

The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, will mark the close of the Christmas season with a Choral Evensong for the Epiphany Sunday, Feb. 2, 5 p.m. Interim music director Lyn Loewi will conduct a musical program that includes the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” from Stanford’s “Evening Service in G” and Lauridsen’s “O Nata Lux.”

St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, 242 S. 20th St., will host a “Solemn Choral Vespers for Candlemas” in the “Medieval Use of Sarum” Saturday, Feb. 1, 7 p.m. The rite flourished in England prior to the 16th century separation of the English Church from the Church of Rome. It was last revived during the reign of Queen Mary (1553-58) before Queen Elizabeth I established the Church of England as it stands today.

HOME SWEET HOME

For the first time since January, 2001, the Philadelphia Orchestra performed a series of subscription concerts in the Academy of Music. “The Grand Old Lady of Locust Street” was the ensemble’s home since its inception in 1900, performing virtually all of its local concerts in what had opened as an opera house in January, 1857.

For the past two decades, the Philadelphians have played in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall, only returning to the Academy of Music for its annual “Anniversary Concert and Ball.” The concerts took place Jan. 23, 24 & 26.

The homecoming seemed appropriate in light of the program, which included Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor. The score was given its world premiere by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Leopold Stokowski in 1936. The Third Symphony is one of the final four major works composed by Rachmaninoff.

The others are the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for Piano & Orchestra and the “Symphonic Dances.” The last was dedicated to Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Rachmaninoff recorded all five of his works for piano & orchestra with the Philadelphians with either Stokowski or Ormandy.

Because the Academy of Music was built as an opera house, it has a short reverberation time and projects higher frequencies so that voices singing onstage can be heard above the orchestra in the pit. Concert halls have longer reverberation

times and project lower frequencies to surround an orchestra playing onstage with resonance.

The Kimmel Center opened in 2001 with Verizon Hall the home of the Philadelphia Orchestra. But for those of us who first heard the Philadelphians in the Academy of Music, an occasional return – even for one series per season – would be welcome news.

Sunday afternoon’s concert revealed the Academy’s acoustics to be bracingly clear in texture, responsive to vibrant rhythms, and projecting a potent, visceral sonic impact on the full house of 2,900 concertgoers. Every detail of the music was delineated in shimmering clarity, yet everything came together as a securely tethered tonal statement.

Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony was shown to be the late masterpiece the composer always knew it to be, comprised of three distinctly cast yet sympathetically complimentary movements. Music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin channeled Stokowski, Ormandy and Riccardo Muti to lead an emotionally expansive yet structurally concise interpretation. He even conjured up that legendary “Philadelphia Sound” from the strings, and he elicited exemplary solos from members of the Orchestra, none more memorable than those of concertmaster David Kim.

Yefim Bronfman was the stellar soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major. His technical prowess – still razor-sharp – was enhanced by interpretive intensity. And he played the closing movement of Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata as a breathtaking encore.

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

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