by Norge Yip, Lister reviewer
Pasadena Master Chorale presented the fifth concert of its current season on June 14, performing Brahms’ Requiem at the First United Methodist Church in Pasadena. More than 300 attendees left the cool summer evening and entered a space where the warmth and still air verged on being uncomfortable, but all of that disappeared in an unforgettable night of emotion.
The concert began with the Pasadena Master Chorale Student Singers performing Vocalise on Intermezzo Op. 118, No. 2 by Composer in Residence, Reena Esmail. The music was set to poems written by the each of the singers and sweetly performed by the young voices with Crystal Rivette on piano. The performance, all done from memory, was just the beginning of the passion and dedication demonstrated throughout the evening.
Shawn Kirchner joined Ms. Rivette in a four-hands piano accompaniment for the Brahms. An early a cappella section revealed an even balance and strong connection among the singers, and between them and their Conductor and Artistic Director, Jeffrey Bernstein. Their tender sound and dynamic range, with solid unisons and harmonies, rivaled the best of performers. Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras displayed the chorale’s finesse in a hushed unison with a contrasting grave forte.
Baritone David Castillo was featured in Herr, lehre doch mich and Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt. Castillo does not appear physically to be a powerhouse but he matched the more than 60-voice chorale and piano. His lyric sound filled the enormous space lightly, appropriately and completely. Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit was possibly the most emotional of the works with Elissa Johnston as the soprano soloist. The chorale communicated a tremendously exemplary feeling of tenderness, sorrow and comfort in their lyric, “You now have sorrow; but I shall see you again and your heart shall rejoice…” The audience gave Johnston the extended applause she so deserved.
The tempi throughout the work were slower than perhaps most are used to, but it worked. One could almost have heard the music by simply watching the singers and Bernstein’s conducting. The performance was true to the music and its text and the connection from that to the musicians transferred to the audience in empathic and genuine expression.
The final movements were filled with energy and passion, making this concert extremely satisfying and intense. With their leadership, sound and interpretation, it was clear how invested each musician was in bringing the concert to a level that few groups achieve. The Pasadena Master Chorale does not just perform music, they give it life.
Pasadena Master Chorale’s final concert of the season will be the world premiere performance of Earth Speaks by Esmail on June 29, 7:30 pm at the First Congregational Church in Pasadena. A talkback with the composer follows. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, click here or go to: www.pasadenamasterchorale.org