Guest conductor Guerrero makes his mark at Majestic Theatre

Giancarlo Guerrero
San Antonio Express-News

Some settings of the Requiem Mass -- Verdi, Berlioz -- quake and thunder with the terrors of death. But Maurice Duruflé, composing in 1947 when the sea of blood that swept Europe had not yet dried, made of his Requiem a healing and consoling balm.

Friday night in a sparsely occupied Majestic Theatre, guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero led the San Antonio Symphony and its Mastersingers chorus in an exquisitely poised, life-affirming account of Durufle's Requiem in the 1961 orchestral version. (It's more often heard in its original form with organ accompaniment.)

In two previous appearances with the orchestra -- in 2001 and 2002, when he was a plausible contender for music director -- Guerrero has shown strong instincts and solid technique, but he was more persuasive in bold, powerful gestures than in passages of repose.

Given that Durufle's Requiem abounds in delicate textures and extreme calm, and only occasionally boosts the volume, Guerrero might seem an odd fit.

But the fit turned out to be ideal. Guerrero exposed the drama underlying Durufle's restraint. He stretched the dynamic range to an extreme. In the few blazing moments, he loosed thunderbolts, but the quiet passages fell to the faintest imaginable pianissimo.

The Kyrie and the numinous Agnus Dei -- surely one of the most beautiful stretches of music ever written -- flowed and floated gloriously. There was a cinematic eventfulness to the Domine Jesu Christe. The Pie jesu and the concluding In paradisum slowed to prayerful stillness but never lost momentum.

The orchestra and chorus responded with shimmering transparency. The Mastersingers were in excellent shape, projecting cleanly and with clear diction, and the men have seldom sounded better.

Guerrero and the orchestra opened with Heitor Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4, a suite of four pieces that combines Bachian counterpoint and the folk rhythms of Brazil. Guerrero lovingly shaped the slow Preludio, was perhaps a shade too sentimental in the Coral and neatly meshe the cross-rhythms of the final Dança, but ensemble was often imprecise.

Georges Bizet's "L'Arlesienne" Suite No. 2 came off swimmingly. In the third movement, principal flutist Tallon Perkes played his pastoral solo with an improvisational flexibility that touched the heart. In the Farandole, Guerrero jumped up and down on the podium as he drove the dance to its frenetic conclusion.