by Michael Caruso
Former West Mt. Airy resident Paul Rardin conducted the Temple University Concert Choir Sunday, March 15, at the Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul. Rardin succeeded Alan Harler as the head of Temple’s choral program a year ago. He was named Harler’s successor as artistic director of the Mendelssohn Club several months ago, making the K-12 graduate of Germantown Friends School one of the most influential musicians in Greater Philadelphia.
Sunday afternoon’s performance was part of the “Concerts at the Cathedral Basilica” series launched several years ago to place the principal church of the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia at the center of the region’s choral music scene. Rardin’s program couldn’t have been more astutely chosen to highlight the repertoire that should be heard in any cathedral that aspires to play a seminal part in the musical life of its community.
Stretching all the way back to the Renaissance and two Latin works by Jan Pietterszoon Sweelinch but focusing even more attention on Latin choral music composed in the 20th and 21st centuries, Rardin made the point that music composed to texts written in Latin — the language of the ancient Roman Empire and still the official language of the Roman Catholic Church — is alive and well.
The concert’s major work was the “Mass for Double Choir,” written in 1922 by the Swiss composer, Frank Martin, who lived from 1890 until 1974. It’s a polyphonic setting for unaccompanied antiphonal choirs of the five Ordinary movements (unchanging from day to day) of the Traditional Latin Mass. Martin employed every developmental and textural trick in the book to offer exquisite yet compelling tone painting of the words that inspired his music.
Rardin and his young singers gave this incredibly difficult score a reading that was both technically secure and interpretively potent. Latin diction was expertly projected, and the overall sound of the singing filled the resonant setting of the Cathedral Basilica with beauty and power.
Rardin’s program included several other notable works. The choir gave an impassioned yet delicate rendition of Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria,” a favorite of the late Pope St. John Paul II. Maurice Durufle’s French-language “Notre Pere” and Javier Busto’s “Pater Noster” are lovely additions to the repertoire of “The Lord’s Prayer.” Both received poignant readings. Two works by Anton Bruckner graced the concert, his “Christus factus est” and “Ave Maria.” Both received exemplary performances under Rardin’s direction.
Cristian Macelaru, a Chestnut Hill resident and the conductor-in-residence of the Philadelphia Orchestra, led the ensemble March 12, 13 and 14 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. The program featured Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6 in F major and two works by Manuel de Falla: “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” for piano & orchestra and the Suite No. 2 from “The Three-Cornered Hat.”
Macelaru’s best work was heard in the Beethoven that opened the concert. He elicited a tawny timbre from the strings that perfectly suited the rustic tone of the entire symphony, Beethoven’s most explicitly programmatic orchestral work. Lovely woodwind solos characterized the playing in the second, third and fifth movements, while the storm’s delineation in the fourth movement rippled with drama. Principal bassoonist Daniel Matsukawa of West Mt. Airy was among the players Macelaru singled out for an individual bow.
Perhaps my memories of having heard Artur Rubinstein and Eugene Ormandy perform “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” decades ago influenced my hearing Macelaru and Mexican pianist Jorge Federico Osorio in “Nights,” but for whatever reason I was disappointed in Saturday evening’s reading. The piano playing was technically solid but interpretively uninspired, and on more than a few occasions Macelaru allowed the orchestra to swamp the soloist. The Second Suite from “The Three-Cornered Hat” fared far more efficaciously, evoking the thrill of Spanish dancing.
FUTURE CONCERTS: Gianandrea Noseda will guest conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra March 26 and 28, 8 p.m., and March 27, 2 p.m., in Verizon Hall. The program includes the Orchestra’s first performances of Michael Daugherty’s “Reflections on the Mississippi” for tuba & orchestra and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.
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