Choral Arts, Bach Festival welcome new year with classical performance

by Michael Caruso
Posted 1/13/21

Matthew Glandorf led the combined forces of Choral Arts Philadelphia and the Bach Festival of Philadelphia to welcome in the new year with music by Henry Purcell, Heinrich Schutz and Johann Sebastian Bach.

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Choral Arts, Bach Festival welcome new year with classical performance

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Matthew Glandorf led the combined forces of Choral Arts Philadelphia and the Bach Festival of Philadelphia to welcome in the new year with a concert performed Thursday, Dec. 31. The performance took place in the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, and featured music by Henry Purcell, Heinrich Schutz and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Glandorf, who is the music director at Good Shepherd and a member of the faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music, now leads organizations founded by the late Sean Deibler (Choral Arts) and the late Michael Korn (Bach Festival). Although the former began his local musical activities on the Main Line, the latter (in his role as founder/director of the Philadelphia Singers) launched the Bach Festival in Chestnut Hill. Partnering with Marc Mostovoy, founder/director of the Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia, the Bach Festival performed glorious renditions of not just the music of the festival’s namesake but of many masterpieces written by other Baroque composers.

The New Year’s Eve concert opened with Purcell’s “Te Deum Laudamus” (God, We Praise You). Composed to celebrate the 1660 Restoration of the Stuart King Charles II, following the Puritan Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, it formed a musical component of the Morning Prayer service of the Church of England. The Latin text was written by the 4th century St. Ambrose of Milan.

Glandorf led his singers – soprano Clara Swartentruber, alto Eva Kastner-Puschl, tenor Daniel Taylor & bass Daniel Schwartz – from the “portativ” organ, all situated in the sanctuary of the church. The music proffers gentle dissonances, graceful melodies and natural harmonic progressions. Glandorf and his singers caught its unaffected beauty through intense yet intimate music making.

Schutz was one of the most influential predecessors of Bach in 17th century Germany. Having studied in Venice with Giovanni Gabrieli, he is credited with bringing to the northern countries the Italian style of the early Baroque. His “Teutoniam Dudum Belli” celebrated a Lutheran victory over the Catholic forces during the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648.

Although it’s virtually impossible to deny the seminal part played by Schutz in laying the musical groundwork that inspired J.S. Bach, I’ve never warmed to his music. To my ears it seemed not much more than a superficial stitching together of poorly connected phrases, following a stilted progression of harmonies spiced with artificially imposed dissonances.

All the same, Glandorf and his musicians gave it a fine rendition. The vocal complement was enhanced by second soprano Joanna Swartentruber plus violinists Mandy Wolman & Christof Richter, violist Daniela Pierson, cellist Eve Miller and violione player Heather Miller Lardin.

The most enjoyable part of the program centered on music written by J.S. Bach, often considered by musicians to be the greatest classical composer of all time. Glandorf cleverly paired the Cantata #61: “Nun komm der Heiden Heiland” (Savior of the Nations, Come) with the Chorale-Prelude for organ based on the same Lutheran chorale tune. Written in 1714 when Bach was working in Weimar, it was first sung on the First Sunday of Advent, Dec. 2 of that year.

Considering that he is one of the finest organists ever to grace the local music scene, it’s always a pleasure to hear Glandorf play Bach’s music. It was particularly enjoyable this time around, as he propelled Bach’s incomparable counterpoint with a gentle lyric touch that painted an aural portrait of the coming “Babe of Bethlehem.”

Glandorf then oversaw a glowing interpretation of Bach’s musical delineation of humanity’s hope for a Messiah to save the world from its myriad sins of commission and omission. The vocalists sang with eloquence and power, sweetness and strength, while the instrumentalists played with technical mastery and stylistic expressivity.

The sanctuary of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, proved the perfect venue for this meaningful concert that closed out a truly awful year with promises of a better one to come. Its touching look of English country Gothic provided a resonant acoustical setting for the musicians that reminded me of Chestnut Hill’s own Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Perhaps, in the future, Glandorf might consider making both these churches regular sites for Choral Arts/Bach Festival concerts. Like St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Locust St., Philadelphia, Good Shepherd celebrates the “High Church” liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer.

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

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