St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, marked the season of Lent with a Choral Evensong. The Academy of Vocal Arts continued its “virtual” season with “Jubilate!”
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, marked the season of Lent with a Choral Evensong Sunday, March 21. With the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle presiding, parish music director Andrew Kotylo led the church’s core professional singers in a musical program that set and held a note of somber reflection. It struck the correct tone for both the penitential season of preparation for Holy Week (between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday) and the mood of the nation as it passed the one-year date of the COVID-19 lockdown and the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have lost their lives to the coronavirus.
The service was bracketed by solo organ music of J.S. Bach at the start and Gaston Litaize at the conclusion. Despite the absence of the parish’s acclaimed Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ (due to extensive repair work), the playing filled St. Paul’s stunning neo-gothic sanctuary with compassionate warmth.
The choral music highlight of the Evensong was Gabriel Jackson’s settings of the “Magnificat” and “Nunc dimittis” from his “Truro Service.” The music of the former is gently intimate and delicately harmonized while the music of the latter darkens with internal reflection upon the promise of eternal life. Kotylo led his singers with sensitivity and concision in both works.
John Sheppard’s “In manus tuas” (Into your hands) was the anthem at the Offertory. The Tudor setting of the Latin text brought out the choir’s finest singing of the afternoon. Balance, blend, tuning and phrasing were exquisitely projected.
Undaunted by the continued COVID-19 lockdown, that severely limits in-person musical performances, Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts continued its “virtual” season Saturday, March 20, with “Jubilate!” The all-scholarship school’s annual celebration of sacred vocal/choral music has become one of the most popular events for local classical music lovers. Thanks to the leadership of East Falls’ K. James McDowell, AVA’s president & artistic director, “Jubilate!” soared to dazzling musical heights.
The concert was recorded at the Episcopal Cathedral of Philadelphia in the University City section of town. Conducted by AVA senior vocal coach David Anthony Lofton, it featured, for the first time since the lockdown, members of the AVA Opera Orchestra. Although no large choral works were programmed, the roster of music spanned the centuries from J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel in the 18th to Virgil Thomson in the 20th.
Soprano Ethel Trujillo was heard to exciting effect in Bach’s “Cantata No. 1.” She delivered the florid coloratura writing with admirable ease, yet sang the slower movements with poise and conviction.
Mezzo Alice Chung & tenor Shawn Roth as well as tenor Shahel Salem gave exemplary readings from Bach’s “Magnificat” while soprano Aubrey Ballaro sang memorably in an aria from Bach’s “St. John Passion.”
Baritone Kevin Godinez took us to the music of Bach’s great contemporary, Handel, in a dramatic aria from Part One of “Messiah.” He gave the music just enough operatic flair to mark out the differences between the styles of these two Baroque masters without losing respect for the serious scriptural nature of the English-language text.
Soprano Loella Grahn and mezzo Alice Chung brought Italianate panache to Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater.” Chung’s command of her resonant chest tones sets her apart from most mezzos and gives credence to thoughts of her voice as that of a true and rare contralto.
Baritone Griffin Hogan Tracey brought us back to Handel via his “Belshazzar” – an opera covering its tracks as an oratorio if ever there was one. Mezzo Anne Marie Stanley essayed an aria from Handel’s “Semele” with style, and baritone Titus Muzi caught the touching tragedy of “Samson.”
Soprano Joanna Latini and mezzo Anne Marie Stanley projected that distinctive balance between the sacred and the secular that marks Mozart’s “Mass in C minor,” while baritone Benjamin Dickerson struck the proper note of intimacy in the original German-language text of Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”
Soprano Renee Richardson’s glorious voice gave Virgil Thomson’s “Stabat Mater” a stunning rendition. I, for one, can hardly wait to hear her in the Verdi/Puccini operatic repertoire. Soprano Loella Grahn sang Nadia Boulanger’s “Lux aeterna” (Eternal light) with supple sensitivity, mezzo Pascale Spinney sang Lofton’s arrangements of “Deep River” and “Amazing Grace” with moving simplicity, and baritone Daniel Gallegro brought the concert to a satisfying finale with the “Quoniam tu solus sanctus” (For you alone are holy) from the “Missa de Nossa Senhora da Concecao” of Jose Mauricio Nunes Garcia.
“Jubilate!” remains available online through April 3.
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