by Michael Caruso

The soloists, choristers and instrumentalists of Vox Ama Deus will return to Chestnut Hill Friday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m. to perform Georg Frideric Handel’s oratorio, “Messiah,” in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Valentin Radu, the ensemble’s founder and artistic director, will conduct the performance.

“As many of your readers know,” Radu explained, “I grew up under a repressive communist regime in my homeland, Romania. Today – and especially from the safe distance of 5,000 miles – most Americans, and even many present-day Romanians, may find it difficult to remember back when the open expression of religious beliefs was suppressed, and the performance of certain musical works was officially frowned upon.

“This was the stark situation when I began my musical career, and I was especially drawn to one musical masterpiece, ‘the’ work that is the hallmark of the coming season of joy, the one piece of classical music that says, ‘This is Christmastime’ – Handel’s ‘Messiah.’

“My colleagues and I tremendously enjoy performing in St. Paul’s Church. The gorgeous woodwork helps produce a beautiful, burnished sound that makes every note come across with warmth, clarity and transparency. These excellent acoustics add greatly to the experiences of both the audience and the performers. In St. Paul’s Church, the audience experiences ‘Messiah’ in a traditional English country church setting that surely would have seemed and sounded familiar to Handel’s original audiences.

“When performing Handel’s ‘Messiah,’ the Ama Deus Ensemble replicates several features of the Baroque era,” Radu added. “For example, the orchestra is comprised of only about two dozen players, who perform on Baroque period instruments and who tune to the Baroque pitch of A-415, which is a half-step lower than today’s A-440. The chorus will also be the historically authentic size of about 36 singers.”

Radu pointed out that “for many years I have chosen to perform ‘Messiah’ in the 1749 Covent Garden version. As you know, there are three principal versions of the oratorio: the 1742 version from the Dublin premiere, the 1744 London Foundling Hospital version, and finally the 1749 version Handel conducted at Covent Garden. In my opinion, this is the best of the three, and was performed with King George II in attendance. I prefer to perform ‘Messiah’ in its complete form, and at sprightly tempos.”

For ticket information call 610-688-2800 or visit www.VoxAmaDeus.org.

JASPER CHAMBER CONCERTS

The Jasper Chamber Concerts will launch its inaugural season Thursday, Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m. in the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting Skyspace, 20 E. Mermaid Lane.

Founded by and featuring the Jasper String Quartet, the series will present first-rate performances of masterpieces from the chamber music repertoire. Each individual program will feature the rendition of a score with a “Philadelphia connection.” The Dec. 8 program will include Beethoven’s “Quartet in A major,” Debussy’s “String Quartet in G minor” and the “String Quartet No. 1” by local composer Chris Rogerson.

Admission is free. For more information, call 440-506-4991 or visit www.jasperchamberconcerts.com.

NOSEDA RETURNS

Gianandrea Noseda returned to the podium of the Philadelphia Orchestra Nov. 25-27 to guest conduct a trio of concerts cast in the overture (or suite)—concerto—intermission–symphony format in Verizon Hall. I heard the Sunday afternoon performance and came away convinced that the traditional program layout still works for the Philadelphians as long as the soloist in the concerto is up to snuff.

The concert’s principal work was Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6 in F major. Composed between 1803 and 1808 toward the end of the German master’s “middle period,” it’s joined by his Third, Seventh and Ninth Symphonies as a four-part fountainhead of the Romantic symphonies of the middle and late 19th century and even the first half of the 20th century.

The Sixth Symphony is also the most explicitly programmatic of all Beethoven’s nine symphonies, in essence telling the story of a day’s journey to the countryside through overt sonic effects placed securely within the context of Beethoven’s peerless command over symphonic structure and developmental techniques.

The “Pastoral” is also perhaps the most perfectly scored of Beethoven’s symphonies for the special characteristics of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The ensemble’s legendary string section, a sonic miracle created during the tenures of Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy from 1912 until 1980, its immaculately voiced woodwind choir and its mellow yet stentorian brass choir meet the precise requirements of the “Pastoral” Symphony.

All these traits were on display Sunday afternoon projected by the firm yet supple interpretive command of Gianandrea Noseda. He delineated the heartiness of the first movement, the intimate lyricism of the second, the exuberance of the third, the explosive emotions of the fourth and the embracing warmth of the fifth.

The concert opened with what struck me as a tentative reading of Goffredo Petrassi’s “Partita,” here receiving its first performances by the Philadelphians.

The afternoon’s true disappointment, however, was the performance given Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G major” by soloist Alexander Toradze. The pianist’s tempos in the first movement were so wayward that his playing dragged Noseda and the Orchestra with him as he dismantled Ravel’s meticulously laid out structure.

He failed to highlight the principal theme of the second movement, even though he dropped more than three or four handfuls of the accompaniment notes. Thankfully, English hornist and former Chestnut Hiller Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia offered a gorgeous reprise of that melancholy melody. Toradze’s rendition of the playful third movement was marred by a total lack of digital precision.

You can contact NOTEWORTHY at Michael-caruso@comcast.net.

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