The weekend leading up to Thanksgiving Day presented me with the opportunity of hearing two virtual concerts of sacred choral music. I took in Matthew Glandorf and Choral Arts Philadelphia’s …
The weekend leading up to Thanksgiving Day presented me with the opportunity of hearing two virtual concerts of sacred choral music. I took in Matthew Glandorf and Choral Arts Philadelphia’s performance of J.S. Bach’s “Cantata No. 106: Actus Tragicus” Friday, Nov. 20. Two days later, I streamed Choral Evensong from St. Paul’s Church, Chestnut Hill. Parish music director Andrew Kotylo led a small but solid choir in a lovely performance of Orlando Gibbons' "Short Service."
The early English Baroque composer set the text of the "Magnificat" with a simple chordal section followed by a more elaborate contrapuntal setting. The "Nunc dimittis" was beautifully reflective. The rendition of Herbert Howells' "A Hymn for St. Cecilia" — Nov. 22 was the feast day for the patron of music — was stellar, growing in sweeping power from start to finish.
Glandorf and Choral Arts Philadelphia performed this early funeral cantata in the resonant setting of St. Clement's Episcopal Church, just off Logan Circle along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. The text may have been assembled by Bach, himself, and he may have composed the work in 1706 to mark the death of one of his uncles. It would seem that literally out of nowhere, the 21-year-old musician emerged as a great composer. Glandorf and his forces of choristers and instrumentalists drawn from Piffaro gave it a glowing reading.
Internationally acclaimed violinist Gil Shaham joined the Philadelphia Orchestra for a series of virtual concerts that were streamed Nov. 19-22 from the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. Shaham appeared as both conductor and violin soloist for performances of the complete “Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi.
The Italian master is often grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel to form a musical “holy trinity” of Baroque composers who rounded out the style of the Renaissance, dominated their own era of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and led the way into the Classical and Romantic epochs that followed.
It’s worthy of note that each member of this trio possessed a distinct personality even though they worked within the context of traditional structures and harmonic idioms. Bach’s music harks back to the polyphony of Renaissance master Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina more than either of the other two. Handel brought to its zenith the operatic style of the early Italian Baroque beginning with Claudio Monteverdi.
Vivaldi took on the early Baroque forms of chamber and church sonatas, perfected by Arcangelo Corelli, and transformed them into “concerti grossi” for multiple soloists and solo concerti for a single instrumentalist against the “tutti” of the rest of the ensemble. In the process he reduced the typical number of movements in each type of concerto from four or five to only three.
He balanced those three movements as fast/slow/fast, thereby setting the standard for concerti by Mozart in the middle of the 18th century through Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Bartok in the 20th.
Vivaldi used the three-movement, fast/slow/fast form for all four concerti that comprised “The Four Seasons.” Starting with “Spring,” then moving through “Summer” and “Autumn” and ending with “Winter,” he offers a sonic portrait of the “affect” of each of the seasons. “Spring” dances with unbridled exuberance; “Summer” lolls about languidly but is also enlivened by a storm;” “Autumn” captures the culmination of the harvest; and “Winter” chills to the bone.
Interpretations of “The Four Seasons” triumph or fail depending upon the soloist and ensemble’s ability to project the individual mood of each movement within the character of each concerto within the structure of the work’s totality of tone painting. Shaham and the strings of the Philadelphia Orchestra triumphed without exception. His tone, in particular, was a miracle of pristine tuning, crystalline focus and eloquent phrasing. The Philadelphians’ legendary strings supported him with supple flexibility and shimmering amplitude.
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