Tag Archives: Master Chorale of South Florida

Review: Master Chorale’s ‘Elijah’

POMPANO BEACH — In its first concert under the hand of a new director, the Master Chorale of South Florida delivered a steroid-fueled reading Friday night of Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah in which the drama of the text was painted in broad strokes of color and the music delivered atop nothing less than a sonic wallop from the Boca Raton Symphonia.


Joshua Habermann, who took over the chorus this year from founding artistic director Jo-Michael Scheibe, directed the proceedings at the First Presbyterian Church of Pompano Beach with a firm, precise hand, and he clearly enjoys the affection of his singers, who did their utmost for him.

Most noticeable in Habermann’s approach is attention to diction and dynamic detail: In  the opening chorus, Help, Lord!, at the words Will then the Lord be no more God in Zion?, the words were crisp and clear, and there was a nice forte-piano effect on the word Zion.

Unity like that is important to bringing out the emotion in the text, and it paid off in moments such as The Lord has exalted thee, in Part II, where the singers made the most of the line We heard it with our ears, giving just the right sense of an excited crowd talking over each other. And it was hard to resist the big, smooth sound in the major choruses; He, watching over Israel, for instance, where halfway through the song, the entrances of each section were so liquid as to be unnoticeable, and that is choral singing of a distinctly higher order.

Of the four soloists, baritone Donnie Ray Albert had the lion’s share of the singing as Elijah, and he was a granitic presence, with a huge, creamy voice which he put through the paces of a strong theatrical instinct. It was fun to see him wheel around to the chorus of Baal worshipers and bark: Call him louder!, and to hear the great pathos he brought to It is enough, the severely beautiful aria of an exhausted prophet. He sang tirelessly and well, and as the central voice of the oratorio, he moved the action along compellingly.

Tenor Glenn Siebert has something of an Irish tenor sound to his essentially lyric instrument, and it made for very pleasant listening, especially in the aria If with all your hearts. Mezzo-soprano Hannah Sharene Penn’s dark, round sound was particularly effective in the arioso Woe unto them who forsake Him.

Soprano Angela Cadelago sang well, adding a nice, pleading touch to Hear ye, Israel, but she was underutilized. This Elijah was given with far fewer cuts than other performances I’ve heard, and the excisions here — the widow with the sick son in Part I, the second half of Hear ye, Israel, and the pretty quartet in Part II, O come, everyone that thirsteth — eliminated most of the other soprano work, and were basically pointless given that virtually everything else was kept.

With the intermission, the concert lasted about two hours. Lengthening it by another 10 minutes wouldn’t have bothered anyone, and Cadelago would have had more to do.

The Boca Raton Symphonia was most impressive Friday night, mirroring the chorale’s intense engagement in Mendelssohn’s colorful score. The brass section was exceptionally muscular, the horn section most of all, and when the whole ensemble — chorus, orchestra, organist Mark Jones — was going all out in the resonant Pink Church acoustics,  it was easy to understand, and identify with, the passion for oratorios that seized Victorian audiences in the 19th century.

But it wasn’t only about brute force. The orchestra was equally at home in the quietest sections of the piece, such as the mournful clarinets against hushed strings in Hear ye, Israel, or the plangent cello solo in It is enough. The ensemble played well enough to ramp up the appetite for its season, which begins Dec. 7, and to provide reminders of the old Florida Philharmonic at its best (that group’s former director, James Judd, was in the audience Friday night).

There were some trouble spots Friday night: the first quartet after Help, Lord!, was quite weak, and in general the male voices, particularly in the lower regions, are underpowered, as they have been in the past. Still, things look promising for the Master Chorale in this new season. I like most of all the energy Habermann brings to the group; this Elijah was more powerful, more emotional, more involving, then any I’ve heard in a long time. There was little trace here of the reverent churchiness that often attends this music.

This version was more like opera, and it was more interesting because of it.

(The Master Chorale and the Boca Raton Symphonia perform Elijah at 8 p.m. today at Trinity Episcopal Church in Miami and at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Pine Crest School in Boca Raton. Tickets are $35 at the door, $30 in advance.)

For the weekend: ‘Elijah,’ jazz, Vivaldi and organ music

The classical season hereabouts is heating up, and here are the things I’m thinking about seeing:

Tonight: The Master Chorale of South Florida introduces its new director, Joshua Habermann, in a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a full performance of this oratorio, and I’m looking forward to it. The Mendelssohn bicentenary next year hopefully will bring some other serious Mendelssohn to the fore.

Saturday: Rachael Price, jazz singer, takes the stage at the Willow Theater in Boca Raton’s Sugar Sand Park. Price is just 23, but she’s already finished work on her fourth CD, and has a hot trio behind her as she navigates the standards. I like her voice, and you can hear some more of it at her Website; I particularly like her version of Hoagy Carmichael’s Skylark, which has a lyric by Johnny Mercer, whose centenary is being celebrated this year.

Sunday: Camerata del Re at St. Paul’s in Delray Beach, doing an all-Vivaldi program. Some interesting things on the program including the cantata Vengo a voi, luci adorate (with soprano Anita Smith) and the popular flute concerto known as Il Gardellino.

Also Sunday afternoon is the third and final concert in the organ series at Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach. On the program are organists Brian Wm. Davey, R. Steven Gorden, and duo organists Diana Akers and Irena Kofman. Music by Rutter and Alan Rawsthorne is on the program for the 3 p.m. recital.

My must-sees for the classical season, Part 2

Here’s the second installment of my must-see concerts for the season. I’ll have to do a third one tomorrow or the next day:

Master Chorale of South Florida: The one-time chorus of the defunct Florida Philharmonic has a new director, Joshua Habermann, who will lead the group in Elijah, Mendelssohn’s best-known oratorio in performances Nov. 14-16. Next year is Mendelssohn’s 200th birthday, and presentations of Elijah are mounting (the Palm Beach Atlantic University Oratorio Chorus presents the work on Nov. 8 in North Palm Beach, and the Masterworks Chorus of the Palm Beaches presents excerpts from the work in a concert on April 5.)

The bicentenary offers musicians and performing groups a good opportunity to reassess Mendelssohn’s place in musical history. You never hear much Mendelssohn outside the Italian and Scottish symphonies, the Midsummer Night’s Dream music, Fingal’s Cave, and the Violin Concerto. These are all fine works, but I’d like to hear someone do any of the string quartets, which are marvelous pieces, or a good sampling of his rich archive of art song. Or the organ sonatas.

Or best of all, the Lobgesang Symphony, listed as No. 2 but really his fifth, a gigantic half oratorio-half symphony that was clearly inspired by the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, but which is a gorgeous work nonetheless. It’s a great piece, people would love it, and Mendelssohn deserves much more of his music to be regularly played. Info: 954-418-6232.

Boca Raton Symphonia: Director Alexander Platt is on board for four of the five concerts this season, and each of the concerts has fresh, welcome programming, built around the work and legacy of Tchaikovsky. The Feb. 8 concert, for instance, features the Sonnets from the Portuguese, a song cycle on the Barrett Browning poems by American composer Libby Larsen, who will be returning to South Florida in April for the second half of her residency at Florida Altantic University. Soprano Nancy Allen Lundy will sing the Larsen songs, and Platt will conduct the first of Tchaikovsky’s four orchestral suites, beautiful pieces that orchestras have ignored for years.

I’ll also want to catch the Shostakovich Ninth on March 22, and the final concert of the season, which offers a violin concerto by the young American composer Jonathan Leshnoff and the Three Botticelli Pictures of Ottorino Respighi, clearly the most important Italian composer after Puccini but never recognized as such. Laura Jackson, assistant conductor of the Atlanta Symphony, will lead the Boca Symphonia for this concert, which looks like one of the group’s most interesting to date. Info: 561-376-3848.

Boca Festival of the Arts: Now in its third year, this 11-day celebration of literature and music (March 5-15) continues to attract the heavies: Salman Rushdie and Jamaica Kincaid are among the literary stars, and violinist Itzhak Perlman dominates the music side of things, with performances of the Beethoven concerto plus and an evening of klezmer music, and then Perlman closes things by leading the Master Chorale of South Florida and the Russian National Orchestra in the Beethoven Ninth on March 15.

Perlman is not one of my favorite players, so I might check out the excellent pianist Jeremy Denk in the Beethoven Fifth Concerto on March 10 (the Russian National led by Mikhail Pletnev), or cellist Nina Kotova in the Lalo concerto (when’s the last time you heard that?) on March 13 (with the young Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra).Other than that, there’s a little too much Beethoven this year, and I might wait until next year to attend more of the events. Info: 866-571-2787.

Festival Miami: The University of Miami’s Frost School of Music scores a big coup tonight with its tribute to composer John Corigliano, who will be on hand to hear Jennifer Koh as soloist in his Red Violin Concerto, taken from his music for the film. Corigliano’s L’invitation au voyage for chorus is on the bill, as his Symphony No. 3 (Circus Maximus), a brass-drenched wind ensemble work already legendary for its loudness (here’s a review of its world premiere three years ago in Austin, Texas). Tonight’s concert will be one of the more important in recent South Florida classical music memory.

The festival also offers blues (Honeyboy Edwards), jazz (the Joshua Redman Trio) and pop (Bruce Hornsby returns to his UM roots), but if I can get to any of the concerts, I’d be most interested in the Faculty Composers concert (Oct. 12), a chamber music night Oct. 13 featuring excellent players in piano quintets by Schumann and Brahms, and the Ritz Chamber Players on Oct. 10, an all African-American group that will play a Dvorak piano quartet and the Cello Sonata of George Walker. The last two concerts, on Nov. 2-3, also look interesting: A tribute to the Argentine master Alberto Ginastera. Info: 305-284-4940.

Cleveland Orchestra: The Ohio band returns to Miami for another of its winter residencies, featuring two guest conductors along with director Franz Welser-Most. The most intriguing of the three concerts looks to be the ones Jan. 30-31, with the rising Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman singing the lovely Wesendonck Lieder of Richard Wagner on a program with the Shostakovich Seventh (Leningrad) Symphony.

Kurt Masur leads an all-Beethoven program with pianist Louis Lortie in the First Concerto on March 6-7, and violinist Nikolaj Znaider plays the Brahms concerto with the orchestra under Pinchas Steinberg on April 3-4. Info: 305-949-6722.

Florida Grand Opera: After the high-water mark of its 2006-07 season, when it presented a world premiere of David Carlson’s Anna Karenina, the FGO sticks to solid box office for the new season: La Traviata, Le Nozze de Figaro, Madama Butterfly. The company also is offering Rossini’s La Cenerentola on Jan. 24-Feb. 7, but the one that will draw me this year is Lakme, which along with the ballet score Coppelia is the only work of Frenchman Leo Delibes that has stayed in the repertory.

But it’s a lovely piece, and the soprano Leah Partridge, a local audience favorite, should help bring some good crowds. Lakme is set for performances Feb.21- March 7. Info: 800-741-1010.

Palm Beach Opera: An all-Italian quartet of operas this season, though one of the composers was an Austrian (Mozart’s Le Nozze de Figaro). Also on the bill are La Boheme and Rigoletto, but I might be tempted by Norma, the Bellini opera more famous today for excerpts (Casta diva) than for the full show. But here’s my chance to see it in full Jan. 23-26; Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs and Jennifer Check alternate duties as the Druid priestess. Info: 561-833-7888.