Virtual Choral Arts concert celebrates Holy Week

by Michael Caruso
Posted 4/7/21

Continuing their “virtual” season of concerts, Matthew Glandorf led Choral Arts Philadelphia in “Lamentations: Longing for Home.” It was performed and recorded at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont.

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Virtual Choral Arts concert celebrates Holy Week


Continuing their “virtual” season of concerts, Matthew Glandorf led Choral Arts Philadelphia in a concert that was first broadcast online Wednesday, March 31. Performed and recorded at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, it was entitled “Lamentations: Longing for Home.” The roster of music was composed by Francois Couperin, Sydney Guillaume and Bheka Dlamini.

The style of the concert was a general, rather than a purely specific, recreation of the Good Friday liturgy of “Tenebrae,” during which each individual candle of a candelabra is extinguished one-by-one until the church is bathed in darkness. It’s meant to evoke the death by crucifixion of Jesus Christ outside the walls of ancient Jerusalem on Good Friday during Holy Week, the holiest week of the Christian liturgical calendar. The culmination of this week, which began with Palm Sunday, is the Great Easter Vigil on Saturday night and Easter Sunday morning, both of which together celebrate Christ’s resurrection.

Couperin’s “Lecons de Tenebrae” was the concert’s principal work. Glandorf selected movements I and III for performances by sopranos Laura Heimes and Clara Rottsolk. Playing the continuo part on a small “portativ” organ, he was joined in accompaniment by Heather Miller Larden on viola da gamba.

During the first movement, each soprano sang a separate recitative/aria and then extinguished one of the candles, followed by the other, singing and performing the same ritual. In the third movement, the vocal writing was specifically voiced for a duet of the two sopranos singing together. Although the first movement offered many examples of Couperin’s impressive gifts as a vocal composer in the highly embellished style of the French Baroque, it was in his writing for the two high voices singing together, both in tandem and in imitation, that the program’s most beautiful music was heard.

Heimes’ and Rottsolk’s voices, though different in timbre, blended beautifully. The former’s creamy sound complimented the latter’s bright tones to proffer distinctly delineated lines in the third movement. Glandorf conducted with admirable sensitivity while Larden provided a mellow bass-line foundation for the singers’ flights of ethereal coloratura.

The program’s three other works were Guillaume’s “Leslhavaj,” Dlamini’s “Woah Lashona,” and a touching arrangement of the traditional spiritual “Deep River.” They were sung “a cappella” by soprano Clara Swartzentruber, alto Eva Kastner-Puschl, tenors Daniel Taylor & Colin Doyle, and basses Jean Bernard Cerin & Cody Muller.

“Leslhavaj” is a work of surpassing, haunting beauty. It boasts a seamless flow of flawlessly blended harmonies, which were sung superbly. “Woah Lashona,” though written in a slightly more dissonant harmonic language, is no less moving in its sweeping harmonic progressions. It, too, was sung with an expert balance between delicacy and power. And, of course, “Deep River” didn’t disappoint.

While the Couperin was performed in the main church, the concert’s other three works were sung in Good Shepherd’s chapel. Both spaces boast clear yet resonant acoustics within the context of their exemplary English Country Gothic Revival architecture. Good Shepherd is only a tad smaller than Chestnut Hill’s Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Might I suggest to the powers-that-be at Choral Arts Philadelphia that these two churches would make a perfect pair of “home venues” for the ensemble once in-person concerts return?

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