Variant 6 to perform ‘Stabat Mater’ and ‘Via Crucis’

by Michael Caruso
Posted 10/26/23

The vocal ensemble Variant 6 and pianist Ting Ting Wong will perform two rarely programmed vocal masterpieces on Oct. 27 in Germantown.

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Variant 6 to perform ‘Stabat Mater’ and ‘Via Crucis’


The vocal ensemble Variant 6 and pianist Ting Ting Wong will perform two rarely programmed vocal masterpieces: Francis Poulenc’s “Stabat Mater” and Franz Liszt’s “Via Crucis.” The concert is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. in the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, located at 35 W. Chelten Ave.

Chestnut Hill soprano Rebecca Myers, artistic director of Variant 6, explained that “programming Poulenc’s ‘Stabat Mater’ has been a dream of mine for years. Poulenc’s harmonically dense and complex music suits what Variant 6 does best: virtuosic one-on-a-part vocal chamber music. We can’t wait to present this piece in a way that it is rarely heard, with a small ensemble and piano accompaniment.

“The other half of the program,” she continued, “Liszt’s ‘Via Crucis,’ is a work that is new to me. Although Liszt is mostly known for his virtuosic piano music, this piece for voices and piano shows Liszt at his most introspective and mystical. Both of these rarely performed, rich and complex works are a perfect fit for Variant 6. We are so excited to collaborate for the first time with a pianist, and we think that the result will be magical.”

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Local concert wrap-up

Chestnut Hill was alive with music on Saturday, Oct. 14. Woodmere Art Museum opened its season of classical music recitals with a program of music for cello and piano by Johannes Brahms, Zoltan Kodaly and Claude Debussy. Later in the evening, Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, performed “The Year the Music Died: England 1623.” Both musical events drew large and enthusiastic audiences.

I may be prejudiced, but I find the Rotunda at Woodmere Art Museum to be one of the most inviting venues for classical music in the Philadelphia area, both city and suburbs. Not only are you surrounded by beautiful and challenging visual works of art, but the music surrounds you with an unaffected and natural resonance that can’t be matched, let alone beat.

Saturday’s performers were cellist Scott Ballantyne and pianist Hiroko Sasaki. They were heard to maximum advantage before intermission in Brahms’ Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 in minor, Opus 38; Kodaly’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Opus 4; and Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, L. 135. The concert concluded with Brahms’ Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 in F major, Opus 99.

Although the two Brahms sonatas were the program’s meatiest works, the sonatas by Kodaly and Debussy held the most interest for me, since I had never heard the Kodaly at all prior to this recital and because I had only heard the Debussy rarely in recital. Both were composed close in hand to each other – the Kodaly in 1910 and the Debussy in 1915. Both spoke in a similar harmonic language of an expanded major/minor tonality enhanced by medieval modality. And yet, since each came from a different ethnic and linguistic background from the other, Hungarian and French, they presented distinctive takes on the classical sonata structure.

Ballantyne and Sasaki caught the austere elegance of the Debussy as well as the tart exoticism of the Kodaly. In the Brahms, they offered up both symphonic amplitude and intense intimacy, voiced in Brahms’ unique balance between the traditions of classicism and the expressivity of romanticism.

Next on Woodmere Art Museum’s roster of classical concerts is “Instrumental Sonatas and Concertos,” which is scheduled for 3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 29, and features members of the Philadelphia Musical Alliance for Youth Artists’ Initiative. The concert is free.


The year the music died

Piffaro commemorated the year 1623 in England with a concert featuring music by three composers, all of whom died that very year: Thomas Weelkes, Philip Rosseter and William Byrd. While the first and second aren’t well known outside the period instruments universe, Byrd remains one of the towering giants of English music. Although most famous for his having bridged the great divide between Catholicism and Anglicanism in sacred choral music, he was also a master of instrumental writing, both for bands and orchestras as well as for the keyboard instruments of his time.

Piffaro’s newly named artistic director Priscilla Herreid of West Mt. Airy assembled a program that proffered a good portion of selections from all of Byrd’s output as well as tantalizing tidbits by Weelkes and Rosseter. Saturday night’s ensemble was a mighty one, combining the four core members of the band plus eight guests both vocal and instrumental.

For me, the singular disappointment was the program not offering even one movement from Byrd’s Mass settings for three, four and five voices. With six singers on hand, such inclusion would have been more than possible.


All the same, the playing and singing not merely maintained Piffaro’s standard of exuberant excellence, but increased it a notch higher. Piffaro will return Dec. 8-10 with “Christmas in Southern Germany.” 

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