by Michael Caruso

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, hosted the last of its “Five Fridays: Concerts for Community” on April 5. Although the evening concert was the final installment of the 2012-13 series, it was also a “first” on several counts.

The most notable “first” was more of a “return engagement” in that the concert took place at the back of the church’s main sanctuary rather than in the Parish Hall, where the previous two performances in the series were given. The concerts had been moved because of construction work installing the labyrinth at the entrance to the sanctuary. Now that the work was completed, the series returned to its original setting.

What a difference the labyrinth makes, both visually and acoustically. Surprisingly, the open area at the back of the sanctuary gives you room to better appreciate both the sanctuary’s expanse and its beauty. In particular, seeing the elaborately vaulted ceiling from a less-crowded entrance enhances the impact of the view. The acoustical ambiance has also been improved, so that now the sound of the instruments wells up from the floor to the ceiling and then back down and all around the listener.

Friday evening’s program was also a “first” for the season in that in offering the “Trio Galilei” (actually four musicians performed) the series offered a concert that wasn’t purely classical in the sense of the audience hearing interpretations of portions of the standard repertoire. Instead, the program mostly featured improvisations on traditional tunes, songs and dances played expertly by Ginger Hildebrand on violin, bouzouki and classical guitar; Sue Richards on Celtic harp, Liza Schneckenburger on fiddle and Carolyn Anderson Surrick on viola da gamba.

All of Friday evening’s selections came from the larger Galilei Ensemble’s repertoire the group often performs for “Wounded Warriors,” veterans injured in the line of duty. Many of the pieces are reflective and introspective in mood, calming in nature and remarkably appropriate for anyone’s hearing at the end of a workweek.

“Five Fridays: Concerts for Community” benefits both Face-to-Face Germantown and the Northwest Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network. Both organizations assist homeless families in achieving stable living conditions. For more information, visit www.fivefridays.org.

HILLERS IN TOWN

The Chestnut Hill-based Pennsylvania Girlchoir will present a concert 3 p.m. Sunday, April 14, in Old St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, 4th and Walnut Streets in Society Hill. Vincent Metallo is the music director of the Girlchoir, which rehearses at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. Old St. Joe’s is the oldest Catholic Church in Philadelphia, founded in 1733 by Jesuit Fathers, and boasts center city’s finest acoustics. For more information, visit www.oldstjoseph.org or call 215-923-1733.

ASSOCIATE CONDUCTOR

Saturday night’s concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall was a mixed bag. Dutch-born Jaap van Zweden was scheduled to guest-conduct the Philadelphians April 4-5 in Brahms’ “Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor” (with Garrick Ohlsson), the 1943 version of Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night” and Strauss’ suite from “Der Rosenkavalier.” But van Zweden took ill, so music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin took the first two concerts, and associate conductor Cristian Macelaru, a native of Romania, took on the final performance. In all three programs the Schoenberg was replaced by Strauss’ tone poem, “Death and Transfiguration,” with the other two scores remaining in place.

Despite a powerful yet finely tuned interpretation of the solo piano part by Ohlsson, Brahms’ First Piano Concerto did not receive a convincing rendition Saturday night because Macelaru elicited the murkiest, muddiest, least articulated and plainly loudest sound in the first movement’s orchestral introduction I’ve ever heard from the Philadelphians. Although things improved slightly in the second movement and a tad more in the third, that first sonic impression set the tone for the entire concerto — heavy-handed to the point of brutish. Wasn’t anyone listening?

After intermission, Macelaru turned things around beautifully and led a stunning performance of “Death and Transfiguration” and a charming reading of the suite from the opera, “Der Rosenkavalier.” And the Philadelphians sounded fabulous, bringing back memories of when they were the greatest orchestra in the world.