Magnificent Baroque concert at Hill Presby Church

Local Life February 3, 2011 0 Comments

by Michael Caruso

The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill leaped across one ocean and one sea to offer “Roman Nights” Sunday afternoon, Jan. 30. The church’s main sanctuary was nearly filled by local music-lovers eager to hear a select ensemble of chamber players from Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, perform instrumental and vocal music by George Frideric Handel and Alessandro Scarlatti.

The concert may not have fooled Chestnut Hillers into believing that we were experiencing the 50-plus degree weather in the Eternal City this past weekend, but both the beauty and sophistication of the Roman musical scene during the early decades of the 18th century were efficaciously revived by Tempesta’s internationally acclaimed musicians.

The ensemble featured concertmaster Emlyn Ngai and violinist Karina Fox, cellist Eve Miller, harpsichordist Adam Pearl, co-founders Gwyn Roberts on recorder and flute and Richard Stone on archlute and theorbo, plus guest artist soprano Clara Rottsolk. The program included Scarlatti’s instrumental “Sonata in C,” plus his secular cantatas “Bella, s’io t’amo il sai” and Bella dama di nome Santa.” The German-born, Italian-trained and eventually English-residing Handel was represented by his cantata “Alpestre Monte” and instrumental “Concerto No. 3” and “Trio Sonata in G minor.”

The concert got off to a lovely start with Scarlatti’s “Sonata in C.” The overall sound offered by Tempesta’s six instrumentalists was ravishingly beautiful. Tempesta caught the nobility of the opening movement, the vitality of the second movement Fuga, the dramatic flourishes of the third movement and the intricate counterpoint of the closing Allegro. The two instrumental works by Handel were played with equal technical polish and interpretive passion. Throughout all three instrumental scores, the playing was exemplary. Even more importantly the music sang with emotional connection and commitment. And the ensemble never sounds better than it does in the Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church.

I was not overly impressed by soprano Clara Rottsolk’s singing. There were moments of slightly flat pitch in Handel’s “Alpestre Monte” and lazy diction afflicted her rendition of Scarlatti’s “Bella dama di nome Santa.” It was only in the same composer’s “Bella, s’io t’amo” that her singing rose to the level of her instrumental accompanists, especially Gwyn Roberts on recorder, who seemed to inspire Rottsolk to her best work of the afternoon.

LOCAL RETURNS
Philadelphia born-and-bred superstar tenor Stephen Costello will return to the stage of the Academy of Music in the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s production of “Romeo & Juliet.” He will be joined onstage by his real-life wife, soprano Ailyn Perez. They will take the titled leads in this operatic setting of William Shakespeare’s immortal love story, composed by the 19th century French master, Charles Gounod. “Romeo & Juliet” runs Feb. 11 through Feb. 20.

Conducting the OCP’s production of “Romeo & Juliet” will be French maestro Jacques Lacombe, who described the opera’s Shakespearean inspiration as one of this greatest draws for the public.

“The story still speaks powerfully to modern audiences,” Lacombe recently told me, “and it’s moving to see and hear how Gounod expresses in music the development of these two young teenagers who grow into adults as a result of the narrative. At the start of both the play and the opera, Romeo and Juliet are young and fresh and full of life, but by the time Juliet takes the poison, they’ve deepened and become adults.”
For ticket information, call 215-893-9018 or visit  HYPERLINK “http://www.operaphila.org” www.operaphila.org.

CLASSIC INNOVATIONS
The East Falls-based Pennsylvania Ballet will present “Classic Innovations” at the Merriam Theater on South Broad Street in center city on Thursday, Feb. 3, through Sunday, Feb. 6. There will be matinees on Feb. 5 and 6. The program consists of Forsythe’s “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude,” Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” and Tharp’s “In the Upper Room.”

For more information, call 215-893-1999 or visit  HYPERLINK “http://www.paballet.com” www.paballet.com.

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