By Nino Pantano
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Church of the Transfiguration at 1 E. 29th St. in Manhattan is also known as “The Little Church Around the Corner.” It has been a wedding chapel for actors and a source of comfort for theater folk for over a century.
On the evening of Thursday, Oct. 24, the Gateway Classical Music Society brought Wagner, Poulenc and Brahms to this intimate, wood-lined church with its beautiful paintings, adornments and visually stunning chapels. The acoustics are excellent, and the 73-piece Gateway Orchestra was seated from the front to the back of the altar as well as on the sides – a true “surround” sound of strings, woodwinds, percussion, brass and cellos.
Maestro Ida Angland, who has the rare ability to conduct without a score, came out and began the concert with the “Overture to Tannhauser” by Richard Wagner. To hear the glorious strains of Wagner in this heavenly setting was both enlightening and humbling. Angland led the musicians in a “stringfest” of swirling glory, with the strings and horns blending and taking us to another dimension. The music transformed us from the commonplace into the rare, which is what great music is all about.
Angland, musicians and soloists then went to the side of the church hall, where the magnificent organ was located, for the Organ Concerto in G minor by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). Claudia Dumschat is the choirmaster of the Church of the Transfiguration and an organist of renown. The composer wrote this piece to commemorate the death of a young friend and colleague, Pierre-Octave Ferroud. The opening passages are frightening in their pounding despair. One thought of silent film music and expected Lon Chaney to pop up. In combination with the strings, the melancholy echoed Tchaikovsky. Later on, the music calmed down as it takes us to less turbulent passages. Dumschat played with precision, power and tenderness.
After the intermission, the final selection was the Brahms Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Opus 68.The composer, Johannes Brahms, was in such awe of Beethoven’s greatness that it took him 26 years to complete it. With the opening chords, one senses the composer rubbing his eyes from the dazzling light of Beethoven but resolving to add his own creative voice. Strings rule! Pizzicato passages were played with precision as Angland saw to it that this musical font flowed freely. The final theme, at once so heartwarming and familiar, was like embracing an old friend through the flawless mastery of Angland’s tempi and interpretation.
In the past, at various venues, Gateway’s Aida, Rigoletto and Requiem (Verdi), thrilled us, along with Puccini’s Butterfly and Tosca. Will Brooklyn or New Jersey be next?