Three churches host concerts that suggest a return to normalcy

by Michael Caruso
Posted 3/23/23

Three local churches hosted a trio of varied concerts, providing a glimpse of how concert life used to be before the outbreak of COVID.

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Three churches host concerts that suggest a return to normalcy


Three local churches hosted a trio of varied concerts over the weekend of Friday through Sunday, March 10, 11 and 12. They provided me with a glimpse of how concert life used to be before the outbreak of COVID and its subsequent lockdown, and it gave me hope that little by little we’re all returning to normalcy.

First on the weekend’s roster was a recital featuring flutist Julietta Curenton and guitarist Jordan Dodson. Their performance was a part of the series “Five Fridays” presented at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill. The recitals help raise money for local charities.

Curenton and Dodson opened their program with a transcription of Franz Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata, D. 821. The “arpeggione” was a six-stringed, fretted instrument that resembled a combination of a cello and its earlier predecessor the viola da gamba. By the middle of the 19th century, it had become virtually extinct, completely supplanted by the cello.

 At the same, Schubert’s sole effort on its behalf never slipped out of favor among string players, with violists and cellist regularly championing it and many other instrumentalists fashioning transcriptions of it so that they could perform its beautiful melodies and harmonies.

Although a transcription for flute and guitar is a trifle further afield than most re-arrangements that I have heard, it worked surprisingly well Friday evening. Curenton’s elegant tones soared above Dodson’s secure yet sensitive accompaniment. She phrased with lilting lyricism while he elicited impressively legato bass notes from his guitar that efficaciously replicated the lighter projection of the wooden-framed fortepianos of Schubert’s time, the first quarter of the 19th century.

The program’s other major work was a tantalizing transcription of Bela Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances.” Originally written for solo piano, it nowadays exists in countless versions, all of which capture the angular melodies and tart, modal harmonies Bartok (and his compatriot Zoltan Kodaly) recorded across the Hungarian and Romanian countryside during the first decades of the 20th century.

Curenton and Dodson gave these six movements salty interpretations that caught their rustic personalities with infectious vitality. Their readings reminded me of how often the late Eugene Ormandy, for 44 years the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, programmed so many of the marvelous scores by both Bartok and Kodaly. Hungarian-born like them, Ormandy had a natural feel for their music.

Brilliant Baroque

Romanian-born Valentin Radu led his Camerata Ama Deus in a concert entitled “Brilliant Baroque” Saturday, March 11, in the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Chestnut Hill. The program encompassed works by Charles Avison, Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin, Antonio Vivaldi and Georg Philipp Telemann. The concert drew an enthusiastic audience of a good 120 local lovers of baroque music.

The evening’s highlight was a performance given Vivaldi’s Concerto for Trumpet in D major. The featured soloist was Paul Futer, who played a modern-made trumpet with four valves that was capable of automatically dropping down a half step – say from A major to A-flat major – in order to accommodate the lower pitch in force during the 17th and early 18th centuries.

Futer played with consummate artistry. His technical command over the instrument’s voice was absolute and unshakable. Even more impressive, phrased with eloquent lyricism and integrated his playing with Radu and Camerata flawlessly. And, of course, his tuning was immaculate.

Although Thomas DiSarlo was a disappointing soloist in Vivaldi’s Concerto for Violin Concerto in E minor, both flutist Steven Zohn and recorder player Rainer Beckmann were stellar in their solo turns.

Notre Dame’s Organist

Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church was the site of one of the most dazzling solo keyboard recitals I’ve heard in many a season. The church’s music director Jeffrey Brillhart and nearly 700 other music lovers welcomed Olivier Latry Sunday afternoon to perform a recital of music by Wagner, Vierne, Dupre, Widor and his own improvisation on the Bryn Mawr church’s 2005 Rieger pipe organ.

It was Latry, himself, who had inspired the building of this particular French romantic style organ, so it was perfectly fitting for the organist, celebrating his 60th birthday year, to perform on what is basically his own creation.

And what a marvel it is. Placed in what is arguably the most stunning piece of church architecture in Greater Philadelphia – a thousand-seat Norman Gothic masterpiece – the Rieger offers a symphonic palette of gorgeous timbres that would have been the tonal envy of Ormandy and his “Fabulous Philadelphians” at their height in the 1950s and 1960s. And with newly renovated acoustics, the church enhanced the organ’s beauty with its own resonance.

Latry conjured up Teutonic splendor in Wagner’s overture to “The Flying Dutchman,” delicate tints in two of Vierne’s “Pieces en Style Libre,” a myriad of colors in Dupre’s “Cortege et Litanie,” orchestral breadth and depth in the five moments of Widor’s “Fifth Symphony for Organ,” impressive imagination in his own improvisation on the hymn tune “What Wondrous Love,” and beguiling romance in Liszt’s “Liebeslied.” He deserved every ovation he was given.

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