by Natalie Mann, Lister contributor
There are many concerts available to listeners these days, but few deliver such a memorable performance as the LA Master Chorale and Orchestra this past Sunday night. Listeners were able to delight in some of the finest renditions of the Chichester Psalms and Carmina Burana, as well as contemplate music so relevant to our current time.
One of the strengths of the LA Master Chorale has always been the uncanny ability to provide just the right repertoire at a poignant time. Such was true of the beauty and sensitivity that underpinned the presentation of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. Written and dedicated to the memory of President John F. Kennedy, these profound works use the original Hebrew language to reflect on the profound loss and division of the country, which seems only more relevant today.
These six Psalms opened with clean and balanced full chords from the orchestra that shimmered into a jubilant “Alleluia” from the chorale. Grant Gershon’s nuanced direction brought a light and crisp sound from the orchestra to provide the perfect platform for the golden chords sung by the chorus.
Jamie Felix-Toll, boy soprano, was well prepared and delivered a clear and natural beauty to the Hebrew texts, drawing listeners into the haunting melodies. The warmth and pathos the women of the Master Chorale delivered during their section of the Lord’s Prayer was unparalleled, and provided the perfect balance to the soloist.
Gershon’s dedication to interpreting the text shone through during dramatic moments, such as the men powerfully singing “Why do the nations rage against each other?” as counterpoint to the women’s reciting of the Lord’s Prayer. The beauty of the Hebrew texts were developed in the careful pronunciation of the words and teasing out the modal melodies that lent a timeless feel to the work. Of note was the impassioned cello solo interpreted by principal cellist Cecilia Tsan.
The artistry of the soloists from the Master Chorale speaks to the depth of talent in the ensemble. Soprano Christina Bristow, mezzo-soprano Callista Hoffman-Campbell, tenor Matthew Tresler and bass David Dong-Guen Kim brought out their solos with glistening clarity and excellent projection. All deserve kudos for their contribution to the success of the work.
The work was brilliant in its delivery of the interpretation of the music, but even more so in its stunning pianissimo moments. As the Master Chorale sang a flawless pianissimo on the words “to dwell together in unity,” one could hear audience members holding their breath to not interrupt the glorious and sacred moment.
The end of the Psalms were met with a reverent pause of silence before bursting into thunderous applause.
After intermission, the audience eagerly awaited the start of Orff’s Carmina Burana, and their anticipation was met with the famous opening chords bursting forth from the orchestra and chorus. The chorus brought the work alive through a lusty portrayal and meticulous diction to drive the story.
Gershon’s perfect tempi for each work, as well as his decision to continue through the movements without pause allowed the listener to enjoy the work in all its beauty.
Baritone soloist Stephen Powell delivered the performance of a lifetime. His incredible commitment to the characters, as well as his flawless technique and superb pianissimo in the upper tessitura made him a favorite of the audience. It is hard to believe one could hear a better interpretation of those solos. The kudos are well deserved for making impossible solos seem so accessible.
Nicholas Phan, tenor, also had wonderful commitment to his character. As the swan being cooked, Phan brought humor and laughs as well as a wonderful delivery of very challenging musical lines. One felt it a shame that he didn’t have more soloist opportunities in the work. Soprano So Young Park took on the challenging soprano solos. While she was under the pitch for most of her solos, her final high D was beautiful and brilliant.
The Master Chorale truly invested itself in the unbridled joy and bawdy storytelling that make the Carmina Burana the favorite it is today. Every aspect of the music reveled in brilliant preparation, including the work by the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus. This stunning and fresh approach to the ancient texts brought them to life in a thrilling way.
The Master Chorale should be congratulated on their stunning season opening concert, and listeners should be grabbing up tickets to the adventurous season that is to follow.