by Michael Caruso

The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill will host “First Lady of the Renaissance: Music at the Court of Isabella d’Este” Saturday, Feb. 22, 7:30 p.m. Performers include Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, which is in residence at PCCH, and the Newberry Consort.

Isabella d’Este, the Marchessa of Mantua, was a diplomat, military leader, mother, musician and international tastemaker. Her court was a leading incubator of the arts in Renaissance Italy. She was a scholar in Greek and Latin, patronized music and musicians and was a connoisseur of the classical instruments of her day. While her husband, Marquis Francesco Gonzaga, was away fighting in the wars of the Italian peninsula, Isabella represented the interests of Mantua at the courts of Rome, Milan, Venice and Naples.

The Newberry Consort is comprised of soprano Ellen Hargis and six string players. Piffaro will field its usual consort of six musicians. Their program will consist of selections by such period composers as Josquin Martini, Mantovano, Bossinensis, Acquilano, Milano, Tromboncino, Caprioli, Lurano, Cara and Pesenti.

For more information call 215-235-8469 or visit piffaro.org.

CANTATAS & CHAMBER MUSIC

The musical forces at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church hosted a “Cantatas and Chamber Music” concert Sunday, Feb. 9. Under the direction of church music director Daniel Spratlan, soloists from the congregation’s Gallery Choir and players from the PCCH Consort gave a splendid rendition of Dietrich Buxtehude’s “Membra Jesu Nostri.”

Divided into seven movements, “Membra Jesu Nostri” focuses on the various parts of the body of Jesus Christ as he hung on the cross on Good Friday. Starting with “To the Feet” and continuing through “To the Knees,” “To the hands,” “To the sides,” “To the breast” and “To the heart,” it reaches “To the face” at its conclusion. Each of the individual movements features an instrumental sonata, a vocal concerto, a series of arias, a reprise of the vocal concerto and a concluding vocal concerto for first and second sopranos, altos, tenors and basses.

Buxtehude’s music is remarkable for the invention displayed within a tightly controlled structure and the emotional expressivity of the vocal and instrumental writing without ever veering into sentimentality.

Spratlan’s musicians performed so superbly that each one deserves mention. The choristers were Kathryn Radakovich, Rebecca Siler, Julie Snyder, Clara Swartzentruber, Katy Avery, Joanna Gates, Kevin Radtke, Steven Williamson, Colin Dill and Jackson Williams. The players were Rebecca Harris, Mandy Wolman, Heather Miller Larden and Ken Lovett. But it was Spratlan who deserves the most praise for molding their individual talents into an ensemble capable of taking its place among any and all of our local groups specializing in the music of the Baroque. The singing and playing were technically exemplary and spiritually moving.

The next “Cantatas and Chamber Music” concert is set for Saturday, March 28, 5 p.m. and features pianist Laura Ward and a host of fellow musicians. Visit www.chestnuthillpres.org.

BEETHOVEN CONCERTO

The Philadelphia Orchestra rounded out its survey of the five piano concerti of Ludwig van Beethoven with performances of his Second Concerto Feb. 6 and 8 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. In this the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in the German city of Bonn, pianist Emanuel Ax gave the score one of the most thrilling interpretations I’ve ever heard for a packed house Saturday evening.

Playing on a stunning Steinway & Sons concert grand piano, the Polish-born virtuoso offered a vision of the composer’s peerless structural command over classical forms of thematic development voiced within the context of a pianistic tone characterized by immaculate clarity and lyrical expressivity. The music unfurled like a flag in a crisp but steady breeze. Not a note was hurried or a phrase rushed, yet neither were either dawdled over or overly extended. Ax played with a dazzling technical dexterity that never called attention to itself as it delineated the composer’s matchless genius for unearthing every possible gem of musical ingenuity from the pages of the score.

Guest conductor Karina Canellakis was on the podium to give her soloist expert support by pairing her interpretation of Beethoven’s instrumental writing with the solo piano part both sympathetically and with heightened energy. She elicited a cleanly aarticulated string tone and eloquent singing from the woodwinds.

After intermission, she conducted the Philadelphians in a brilliant reading of Witold Lutoslawski’s scintillating Concerto for Orchestra. Composed between 1950 and 1954, the music pushes the limits of traditional major/minor tonality yet remains appealingly accessible. Canellakis highlighted the score’s numerous solos yet never lost sight of the forest for the trees.

You can contact NOTEWORTHY at Michael-caruso@comcast.net. To read more of NOTEWORTHY, visit chestnuthilllocal.com/Arts/Noteworthy.

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