by Michael Caruso

The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, marked the ancient “Feast of Candlemas” (“The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple”) with a Choral Evensong Sunday, Feb. 2. It was the first Evensong led by interim music director Lyn Loewi. Her musical program included scores by Bach, Ayleward, Parry, Stanford and Lauridsen.

The evening’s principal work was Morton Lauridsen’s unaccompanied “O Nata Lux” (“O Light born of Light”). Performed at the Offertory by the choir positioned around the front altar, Loewi elicited singing of exceptional expressivity, sweetness of tone, exemplary ensemble, broadly varied dynamics and admirable diction.

Parry’s setting of “Psalm 84” was especially noteworthy for its delicate harmonies and inventive balance between the women and men of the choir. It was sung beautifully, as were Ayleward’s “Preces” and “Responses.” Stanford’s “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” also received readings of sensitivity and potency. The latter, in particular, was timely in that its text is drawn from the New Testament Gospel of St. Luke specifically for “The Presentation.”

Loewi bookended the service at the organ with two pieces by Bach: “Allein Gottin der Hoh sei Ehre” at the prelude and the Concerto in D minor at the postlude.

Roman Vespers and Compline are the joint progenitors of Anglican Choral Evensong. The separate liturgies were combined into the single service of Evening Prayer by Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer for the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549.

A “Candlemas Eve Vespers” according to the ancient “Sarum (Salisbury Cathedral) Rite” was celebrated at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Center City Philadelphia Saturday, Feb. 1. The assembled choir along with organist Clara Gerdes (assistant at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, New York City) performed appropriate sacred choral music by Thomas Tallis and Thomas White, both musicians of the 16th century and survivors of that epoch’s religious controversies. Gerdes interspersed the singing with selections from Charles Tournemire’s “L’Orgue Mystique.” Richard Spotts will be performing the massive opus at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, in March and April.

“The Presentation” was celebrated at the Choral High Mass Sunday, Feb. 2, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Locust Street, where the liturgical and musical traditions of the English Church are maintained. The professional choir sang the “Missa Princeps Pacis” of William Lloyd Weber, the father of fellow composer Andrew Lloyd Weber and cellist Julian Lloyd Weber.

FIVE FRIDAYS’ RECITAL

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, will host the third in its series of fundraising recitals Friday, Feb. 7, at 7:30 p.m. The Vera String Quartet will perform music by Beethoven, Brodhead and Ravel. For more information visit www.fivefridays.org.

CURTIS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Osmo Vanska conducted the Curtis Symphony Orchestra in concert Saturday, Feb. 1, in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. The program opened with Curtis Institute of Music alumna Gabriella Smith’s brief “f(x)=sin2x-l/x,” then rounded out the first half with Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major. Curtis alumnus and faculty member Jonathan Biss was the soloist. After intermission, the Finnish-born Vanska delved into his native land’s repertoire to lead Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 in D major.

It was during the performance of the Sibelius that listeners had the best chance to appreciate the fantastic level of playing coming from the stage. Despite the incredibly young age of every musician in the Curtis Symphony, the performance was of such a high level of quality that the players of every orchestra in the world would and should have envied it.

The strings glistened, the woodwinds intoned, the brass declaimed and the timpani thundered. They all came together to project Sibelius’ peerless mastery of orchestration employed in the delineation of flawless symphonic form.

Most impressive was the sheer joy exhibited on the faces of these young musicians as they played this mighty score. Close behind in the order of special notice was the way they followed Vanska’s baton as he led them in an interpretation that pulsed with rhythmic vitality as it shimmered and dazzled with sonic splendor.

The result was a rendition of bracing beauty and stylistic conviction. Biss may not be the most brilliant technician on the international circuit of piano virtuosi, but he is his generation’s most compelling interpreter of Beethoven’s music for piano.

His playing offered both emotional expression and intellectual insight into the inner and outer workings of Beethoven’s final piano concerto. He highlighted the score’s many intricate details while molding them into a towering statement of classical structure and romantic individuality.

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

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