Here are capsule reviews of three recent classical music events:
Master Chorale of South Florida
(Nov. 20, Wold Center for the Performing Arts, Boca Raton)
The Creation is one of Franz Joseph Haydn’s finest works, and even in the abridged version the Master Chorale of South Florida presented Saturday night, the beauty and vigor of this oratorio were well in evidence.
Joined by the Miami Symphony Orchestra in a special resource-sharing arrangement, the 105-member chorale sounded well-rehearsed and strong, in particular during the concluding Sing to God and the much-beloved The Heavens Are Telling.
But the bulk of the work goes to its soloists, and chorale director Joshua Habermann had three very able ones at his disposal. Soprano Maria Jette sang with power and clarity, and with a vibrato-less, pure sound that was ideal for Haydn’s aesthetic. Tenor Glenn Siebert was just as good, with his clean, light-limbed voice also suiting the music well. Bass Graham Fandrei delivered Rolling in Foaming Billows with verve, style and excellent diction, and the three voices blended sweetly at trio time.
Habermann’s tempos were relatively brisk, and the Miami Symphony was generally a fine accompanist, though there were some minor ragged edges here and there throughout (imprecise entrances, slightly sour string intonation) that surely could have been cleaned up with more rehearsal time. Overall, this was a confident performance, which gave the proceedings a high degree of engagement.
Also, it was an interpretation that was modest, careful and highly respectful of Haydn, and one that showed off the fertility of the composer’s imagination to fine effect.
Although it has become usual to omit the third section of this oratorio in many performances, it was a shame to lose it here, particularly because it would have been nice to hear more from Jette, Siebert and Fandrei and the chorus, too, which didn’t have too much to do Saturday night.
Given the omission of the third section and the dominance of the solo singing, it might have been a good idea to offer a couple choruses from The Seasons, Haydn’s other late oratorio, so that audiences could get a fuller idea of just what this large and durable singing group is all about. – G. Stepanich
in Florida Grand Opera’s Turandot.
(Photo by Gaston de Cardenas)
Turandot/Florida Grand Opera
(Nov. 13, Ziff Ballet Opera House, Miami)
Turandot last took the stage at Florida Grand Opera in 2004, and this season Puccini’s last opera has come around again as a farewell to the production Bliss Hebert first designed for the company in 1982 (it closes Dec. 4 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale).
It’s a good-looking show, and on opening night, its giant dragons, fanciful trees and elaborate, vivid costumes came off as an appropriate way to present the fairy-tale world of Gozzi’s tale, which after all has its roots in the legends of old Araby. But while the large house warmly applauded the set on its first appearance, it was the singing they came for, and in the two leading female roles, they were not disappointed.
American soprano Lise Lindstrom, who is currently making something of a specialty of the title role, having sung it at the Met and prepping it for La Scala, has a big, strong voice with a cutting quality that enabled her to slice through Puccini’s big orchestra and easily be heard. She embodied the force and malevolence of the ice princess well, and was able to communicate her softer potential, too, with a sensitive reading of In questa reggia.
Hometown favorite Elizabeth Caballero was a fine Liu, matching Lindstrom in sheer vocal power and seizing the stage during her Signore, ascolta. Her first entrances had a wide vibrato, but this tightened up as her voice warmed, and she received the warmest ovations at the final curtain.
Tenor Frank Porretta was a decent Calaf in one sense, with a good stage presence and careful management of his voice so that all of his high notes, especially the B in Nessun, dorma, were reliably there when he called on them. But his soft-edged voice was too underpowered overall, and in the love duet he was almost drowned out by Lindstrom and the orchestra.
Jonathan G. Michie was an excellent, sharp-voiced Ping, and Kevin Langan an empathetic Timur, with a dark quality to his bass voice that was persuasively sorrowful. Conductor Ramon Tebar led with drive and fire, and he had a first-rate orchestra to help him, a fine band that beautifully handled the wide variety and breadth of this fascinating score. – G. Stepanich
Lynn Philharmonia/Tao Lin
(Nov. 5, Wold Center for the Performing Arts)
It’s often been noted that despite his early death at just 35, and despite the astonishing pieces he wrote while still in his teens, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart actually was a late bloomer.
But things started to come together for him as a great innovator in 1786, the year of Le Nozze de Figaro and the Piano Concerto No. 25 (in C, K. 503), which received a tender, lovely performance at the hands of pianist Tao Lin on Nov. 5 at a concert by the Lynn Philharmonia.
Lin, who teaches at the Boca Raton college, offered a reading of the Mozart that was technically polished and musically wise, offering up the almost childlike theme of the third movement, for example, with a kind of personality and wit that made it more memorable. Throughout, he and the Lynn, led by conductor Albert-George Schram, played the concerto with restraint and taste that allowed its bolder moments to shine simply by being performed so faithfully.
In the first movement, Lin played his own cadenza, an arrangement of two existing cadenzas by Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Josef Hofmann. The sheets of runs at the end of the cadenza came off as eminently logical rather than extravagant, and well in keeping with Lin’s elegant reading of this beautiful piece.
The other two works on the program, Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila overture and the Symphony No. 2 (in D, Op. 43) of Jean Sibelius, offered good demonstrations of the strengths and weaknesses of this commendable conservatory band. The group’s expanded string section (which allows it to do the Sibelius and to open the season with the Mahler Fifth) is impressive, with its two violin sections fully up to the challenge of playing the zippy main theme with admirable unity, and at a headlong tempo.
Things were just as good in the Sibelius, allowing for some early uncertainty about the pulse; the violins in particular were able to bring off the naked emotionalism of the primary section of the first movement with exactly the right kind of big-orchestra Romantic bravado this music demands.
But the brass playing remains something of a problem for the Philharmonia, even if on balance there were more things right than there were wrong, and granting some slack for the difficulty of the music. The Sibelius has many exposed moments for the brass in which there is nothing underneath, and when things are in good alignment, this kind of scoring offers something akin to an aural painting in which swatches of color are more important than the composition.
In the Saturday night performance, there were simply too many flubbed notes and too much inexact intonation, which marred the overall effect of the music and almost made it appear as though there were two orchestras on stage: One featuring a high-flying string section, and one with a brass department still finding its wings.
It’s exciting that Schram has programmed these major orchestral works for the Lynn, in keeping with his notable readings of the Shostakovich Tenth, Prokofiev Fifth and the Schoenberg Five Pieces for Orchestra in recent years. It’s to be hoped that a big improvement in brass consistency will be evident when the orchestra tackles the Verdi Requiem this spring; that would be another reason among many to eagerly anticipate that concert. – G. Stepanich