Vespers, Philadelphia Inquirer review

In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daniel Webster reviews Vespers in the first of its three 2012 reprise concerts. He calls it “a tangy, new-old gloss on a historic form” becoming, in German and Latin, “like musical conversation among friends.”

He writes that “Smith’s harmonic vocabulary ranges widely, demands keen ears, and gives vitality to texts that can invite routine. A single voice, moving in consonance, is joined by another on an edgily different route, then by others until the vision emerges of a crowd jostling, before a resolution unpredictably appears. No assumptions can be rewarded in this writing, for surprise is everywhere.”

He points to the weaving of lines, voices, textures, and dynamics that “craftily prepare for the work’s climax, in the Magnificat, to reach a doubly dramatic forte. That section, beginning with single high soprano voices, grew to a tumult, and included historical musical references and gestures to summarize the entire work’s premise.”

He rightly praises Piffaro and The Crossing for their work in creating the “sonic novelty” of transparency and ever-changing mixtures. “Piffaro’s seven musicians play so many instruments that it is, by turns, a discrete group of plucked strings, a sweet wind ensemble, or even a rowdy band of sackbuts stomping through the fields. To hear a finely tuned interval in the voices supported by a small harp, guitar, and theorbo is to stand near the center of music itself.”

And again, “Piffaro’s players are magicians in stirring fresh sounds for the work…. Listeners could hear every line and interval within that transparent singing.”

Webster continues, “the color and densities of the setting of Herr Christ, der einig Sohn, and Psalm 27 anchored the structure of the whole. Smith’s music seems to rejoice in meeting old forms and greeting them like new friends.”

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