At Hill church, the whole is greater than the sum of parts

Local Life May 12, 2011 0 Comments

by Michael Caruso

Piffaro, Philadelphia’s internationally acclaimed Renaissance Band, celebrated the culmination of its 25th anniversary season with a concert Friday evening in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. Capilla Flamenca, the Belgian vocal quartet, was Piffaro’s guest, and together they followed “The Musical Travels of Heinrich Isaac.”

The Piffaro players featured Friday were co-directors Joan Kimball and Robert Wiemken, Grant Herreid, Greg Ingles, Christa Patton and Tom Zajac — each, of course, playing many different Renaissance instruments. Capilla Flamenca was comprised of countertenor Marnix De Cat, tenor Tore Denys, baritone Lieven Termont and bass/director Dirk Snellings.

The two ensembles followed the path of the musical output of the Flemish-born Heinrich Isaac as he made his way from his native Flanders (a region in modern-day Belgium) to the Italian city-state of Florence and the court of the fabulously wealthy Medici family, and finally to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian 1 in Vienna and Innsbruck. Along the way, Isaac composed sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental masterpieces that pointed in the direction of the glories of the High Renaissance and then into the Baroque.

Capilla Flamenca is one of those fascinating musical ensembles in which the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Only two of the four singers have exceptionally beautiful voices in and of themselves, yet when they sang in ensemble Friday evening their resultant sound was stupendous.

Piffaro celebrated its own anniversary with playing characterized by energetic rhythms, vibrant tempi and brightly tart colors. What a joy this quarter-century has been — and what a pleasure that Piffaro regularly performs in Chestnut Hill.

ORCHESTRA THOUGHTS

This past Saturday night, I attended my first Philadelphia Orchestra concert since the Orchestra Association declared Chapter 11 Bankruptcy last month. Kurt Masur conducted the “Fabulous Philadelphians” in Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 1 in F minor” and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Pathetique.” The program brought to mind thoughts of what once was and what might have been.

Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” Symphony and the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies were staples of the late Eugene Ormandy’s repertoire. Ormandy was the orchestra’s music director for a record-setting 44 years. More than that, however, he made them the most profitably recorded classical music ensemble in the world. Ormandy and the Philadelphians made three albums for Columbia Masterworks that went “gold,” meaning they sold more than 100,000 albums each.

Although the Academy of Music’s acoustics have recently been derided as too dry for concerts, I vividly recall the sound of the Philadelphians in the “Pathetique.” The strings glistened with a sheen never heard in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall, where the orchestra has performed for the past unprofitable decade. The woodwinds piped with mellow sweetness, the brass choir declaimed with stentorian power, and the timpani thundered thrillingly and ominously. And best of all, Ormandy’s interpretive mastery with Tchaikovsky’s music was distinctive and unaffected.

Masur elicited fine playing from the orchestra Saturday night, receiving a well-deserved ovation after both renditions. But there was no magic to the sound during either one in Verizon Hall.

LOCAL SINGER

Flourtown resident Katie Eagleson will be performing her new cabaret show at Bob Egan’s New Hope at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 22. She will be accompanied by her musical director, Lenny Pierro, on piano, Madison Rast on bass and Chestnut Hiller Grant MacAvoy on drums.

The show, called “On the Other Hand,” is a continuation of Katie’s latest compact disc of the same name. The CD features 16 songs by 16 different composers. The repertoire is drawn from the “Great American Songbook.” The show will include titles from the CD as well as other gems by these masters of the American song, some familiar and some not.

Eagleson has recorded two CDs, “Once Upon a Time” in 2007 and “On the Other Hand” in 2009. Both are heard worldwide on Sirius-XM Radio,  WNYC and other broadcast radio stations. Some Chestnut Hillers will recall Eagleson’s stellar performances in Pastorius Park.

Bob Egan’s New Hope is located in the Ramada of New Hope at 6426 Lower York Rd. in New Hope. There’s a $20 entertainment charge plus a $15 food or drink minimum. For tickets, visit www.bobegansnewhope.com. For more information about Katie, her CDs or the show, visit www.katieeagleson.com.

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