Franck: A musical meeting
By Jim Pegolotti
NEWTOWN — The Connecticut Master
Chorale, in its fourth year and conducted by its founder Tina Johns
Heidrich, presented a program of music by César Franck and Wolfgang
Amadeus Mozart on Sunday at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown. It
was standing room only.
The largest part of
the program was music by Franck (1822-1890), a composer who was a
centerpiece of French Romantic music and a deeply religious man. He
wrote the "Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross,” a work with
Latin text, in 1859. The manuscript lay dormant until discovered in
1955 and, according to Heidrich, has been performed only once before
in this country.
Fauteux, tenor Gregory Mercer, and baritone Michael Cavalieri,
joined the 55-voice Chorale and 22 instrumentalists to perform this
work related to the essence of Good Friday.
according to some critics, was not one of Franck’s strengths. This
reviewer would tend to agree after hearing this 40-minute work that
comprised the first half of the concert. Outside of several
energetic strains for chorus in the segments "Father, Forgive them”
and "I thirst,” a certain monotony of lush romanticism suffused both
the choral and orchestral writing.
Perhaps all the
composer hoped to achieve was music to meditate by, but even for
that the ear seeks musical inspiration. A few times, something quite
unusual occurred in the orchestration, as in the segment "It is
finished,” where underneath the celestial chords of a harp rolled a
quietly ominous timpani.
exhibited all of the Chorale’s well-known virtues, including
exceptional blending of voices, a cappella singing to die for, and
crisp attacks. It was Franck’s music that lacked memorability.
conducted Franck’s hymn masterpiece "Panis Angelicus” in an
arrangement for female voices and orchestra. As heard from the back
of the church, the orchestra often masked the beauty of the voices
and the melodic line. A simple organ accompaniment would have been
Nothing can be said,
however, to detract from the excellence of the performance of
Mozart’s "Coronation Mass.” All was joyful, from the Chorale’s
initial "Kyries” — thrust forth fortissimo to quickly disappear into
pianissimo heaven — to the perfectly performed "Agnus Dei,” which
featured mezzo soprano Megan Friar. The singers evoked the beliefs
of the believers in the "Credo” and the ecstasy of exaltation in the
"Gloria.” The beauty of Mozart’s orchestral texture also came
through clearly in the chamber orchestra’s excellent performance.
Not to mislead her
audience that Franck could not rise to composing magisterial music,
Heidrich pulled out all the stops in the final six minutes of the
concert with the French composer’s "Psalm 150,” written only two
years before his death.
This beautiful Psalm
urges that the Lord be praised with all possible musical
instruments. With cymbal sounds abounding and an added massive organ
presence provided by Joseph Jacovino, Jr., the vaulted ceiling of
the church may still be echoing today from the thrilling sounds that
the director drew from her chorus and orchestra.
Heidrich, whose deep
love of music is communicated through highly expressive conducting,
is to be congratulated for bringing both the known and unknown to
her large and appreciative audience.