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by Michael Caruso

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, launched its third season of “Five Fridays” chamber music recitals Oct. 4 with a performance by harpist Caroline Cole and saxophonist Jonathan Nottingham. Presented in collaboration with Astral Artists, the local organization that promotes young musicians just entering the professional musical world, the recital was given in the beautifully redesigned entrance of the neo-Gothic sanctuary, one of the most stunning and resonant spaces in Greater Philadelphia.

I must admit that I came to Friday night’s recital with a good deal of curiosity and more than a little trepidation. How deep or broad is the repertoire for saxophone (in this case both soprano and alto) and harp? And if there weren’t that many pieces composed for the specific pairing, would transcriptions form the main body of the program? And how would they sound?

As it turned out, I was not so much “pleasantly surprised” as “blown away,” first by the music itself and then by the performances the seven pieces on the roster received. Most of the music was “modern” in the sense that all but one of the composers represented were born in the 20th century, one (Philadelphia’s own Michael Djupstrom) as recently as 1980. The only “romantic” was the Russian Alexander Glazunov, and his work was a transcription from the cello repertoire. But none of the modern scores was off-putting in the least.

Cole proved herself an expert harpist. She produced a clearly voiced yet smoothly sustained foundation upon which Wintringham’s saxophone could sing effortlessly yet expressively. She varied her dynamics from shimmering pianissimo (very soft) to resonant fortissimo (very loud) in beautifully controlled crescendo (growing louder) and diminuendo (growing softer). And her solo playing in Suite “Galactique” by Caroline Lizotte was memorable for its evocative lyricism.

Together, Cole and Wintringham scored a resounding triumph in three movements from Astor Piazolla’s “Histoire du Tango.” The next “Five Fridays” concert is scheduled for Nov. 1 and will feature The Laughing Bird Quartet.

MAHLER FOURTH

Yannick Nezet-Seguin led the Philadelphia Orchestra in a trio of concerts Oct. 4 – 6 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. The evening’s major score was Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony No. 4 in G major,” but the program’s opening work, Benjamin Britten’s “Variations & Fugue on a Theme of Purcell,” offered the most thrilling playing of the concert.

Among the most arresting of those colors heard Saturday evening was that produced by West Mt. Airy’s Daniel Matsukawa, the orchestra’s principal bassoonist. Throaty and reedy, his tone nevertheless offered timbral clarity and rhythmic energy. He was effectively joined by contrabassoonist Holly Blake of Wyncote, principal French horn player Jennifer Montone of East Falls and principal contrabassist Harold Robinson, also of Wyncote.

The program’s first half was filled out by Richard Strauss’ Oboe Concerto, which he composed in 1945 at the very end of World War II. The work’s composition was suggested by oboist John de Lancie, a young American soldier and graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music. He later became principal oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra and director of Curtis, where he was the teacher of Richard Woodhams, his successor as principal and the soloist in these performances.

Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, composed in 1899-1900 and revised several times between 1901 and 1910, is more lightly orchestrated than any of his other symphonies, but it still calls on a vast array of orchestral colors and is spread out over four very long movements, including the final with soprano soloist (Christiane Karg). Nezet-Seguin invested Saturday night’s rendition with an urgent intensity that did not shortchange the detailed beauties of Mahler’s scoring.