A Heavenly Blend
Joshua Habermann conducts
the Master Chorale of South Florida,
reviewed by LAWRENCE BUDMEN
Joshua Habermann, a choral director of surpassing brilliance, concluded his first season as Artistic Director of the Master Chorale of South Florida with a program of American music that ranged from the homespun, folk based melodies of Copland to the fervent spirituality of Morten Lauridsen and the large scale theatricality of Bernstein on 26 April 2009 in the majestic sanctuary of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Miami, Florida, USA. (Also Director of Choral Studies at the University of Miami, Habermann led the Frost Chorale the previous week in a fascinating cavalcade of four centuries of a capella choral writing with a particular emphasis on Renaissance polyphony and contemporary Scandinavian works.)
Habermann's masterful command of vocal textures, subtle choral modulations and sweeping momentum that propels the long arc of diverse scores recalls the work of the distinguished American Midwestern choral director Dale Warland. After one season under Habermann's direction, the Master Chorale displays greater flexibility, clarity of projection and strongly focused ensemble.
Habermann's leadership was particularly impressive in Morten Lauridsen's glorious masterpiece Lux Aeterna. A work of profound beauty, Lauridsen's score is texturally spare yet harmonically complex, reinventing the sacred strophes of Bach, Fauré and Stravinsky in a thoroughly contemporary idiom. At once contemplative and stirring, Lux Aeterna is a deeply personal, angelically beautiful work. Lauridsen, a prolific choral composer, has penned a distinctive sacred piece for our time. Habermann drew stirring, full bodied choral sound in the score's grandiose climaxes. His ability to thin the choral textures down to a mellifluous whisper was awesome and a tribute to his outstanding chorale. This beautifully nuanced performance did full justice to a divine expression of musical and spiritual faith. Although the Trinity Cathedral organ is not in the greatest working condition, Christopher Harrell provided masterful support, drawing impressive sonority from the instrument.
Under Craig Denison's enlivening direction, the Florida Singing Sons Boychoir offered inventive arrangements of four of Aaron Copland's Old American Songs. The youngsters brought charming lightness to these vintage gems of Americana. The group could have used greater numbers; a seeming imbalance of boy sopranos produced a somewhat thin sound. Nevertheless Zion's Walls and At the River were sung with lovely articulation and idiomatic style. Copland's synthesis of indigenous folklore and classicism remains unique.
Denison also led his boy choir in a lovely version of A Simple Song from Leonard Bernstein's Mass. These young voices perfectly captured the simplicity and rapture of this songful vignette from an infinitely more complex and disturbing work.
Habermann and the Master Chorale returned for Bernstein's Chichester Psalms. One of Bernstein's most important scores, this 1965 series of Psalm settings (sung in Hebrew) runs the gamut from questing exultation to beguiling lyricism, mixing modal melodic and harmonic austerity, dissonance and radiant consonance in one of the composer's most satisfying conceptions.
Habermann's dynamic performance lacked only one important element -- the full instrumental panoply, an important aspect of Bernstein's compositional personality. This reduced version (with organ, harp and percussion accompaniment) for intimate church performance is highly skillful but cannot match the vivid instrumental coloration of Bernstein's full orchestral score. Habermann led a surging performance that did full justice to the tumultuous abandon of the opening movement. Soprano Kristin DiNonno, alto Sophia Beharrie, tenor Mark Glickman and bass Scott Latta were the vociferous soloists. Boy soprano Alejandro Pichardo offered a capable solo (if somewhat uneven vocal production) in Bernstein's eloquent setting of Psalm 23. Habermann produced a heavenly blend of voices in the ethereal, other worldly beauty of the final movement. Here was Bernstein at his inspired best, performed with conviction and wonderful articulation and balance -- a model of fine choral singing. Andrew Proctor offered resounding percussion support with Deborah Fleisher (Leon Fleisher's daughter) providing gorgeous harp textures.
For an encore Habermann combined the Master Chorale and the Florida Singing Sons Boychoir for a stirring arrangement of Make Our Garden Grow from Bernstein's Candide (with an eloquent tenor solo by Brandon Mowry). This wonderful collaboration radiated joy and brotherhood -- a triumphant conclusion to a fine afternoon of choral music led by a master of the genre.
Copyright © 4 May 2009
Miami Beach, USA
MASTER CHORALE OF SOUTH FLORIDA