The Los Angeles Master Chorale’s December dance card was a bit more full than usual: two concerts of holiday carols, a straight-up performance of Handel’s Messiah, providing soloists for a Messiah sing-along, and an evening of Vivaldi and Bach that was titled, “Rejoice!”
I only had the opportunity to attend the Vivaldi/Bach concert, and judging from that single performance, I’d say that perhaps they were spread too thin.
It wasn’t an outright bad performance, and if you weren’t familiar with how well this world-class ensemble can usually sing, you may even have been inclined to have been impressed.
For me, however, it lacked polish and felt under-rehearsed. The Master Chorale’s trademark purity of tone and impeccable vocal blend was largely missing from the evening. Attacks and cut-offs could be rough. There was even a point in the evening when one of the choristers who did double duty as a soloist got up and began to walk to the front of the stage — except it wasn’t his turn to sing yet.
Overall, it was far from their best effort.
The concert opened with Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, a short work by Bach. It was unsettled, with the sopranos sometimes sounding a tad pinched, even shrill.
Vivaldi’s Gloria followed, and fortunately things settled down a little bit. Grant Gershon, the LAMC’s Music Director, started with a moderate tempo in the opening “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” before mixing it up: “Et in Terra Pax” was beautifully reticent, while “Domini Fili, Unigente” was brisk and spicy. The three vocal soloists (sopranos Deborah Mayhan and Ayana Haviv, mezzo-soprano Janelle DeStefano) did a reasonable job.
After intermission, Mr. Gershon led a well-balanced account of Bach’s Magnificat. Textures were thick but translucent, and again, tempos were moderate. Soprano Risa Larson and bass Steve Pence were my favorite soloists, though Harriet Fraser (soprano), Niké St. Clair (mezzo-soprano), and Brandon Hynum (tenor) were also capable in their roles.
After the audience in the mostly full Walt Disney Concert Hall responded to the Magnificat a warm ovation, Mr. Gershon and all of his singers offered a cheery and spirited “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” as an encore. It was the Master Chorale at their relaxed best, and sent me off with a smile on my face.
Random other thoughts:
- The pick-up orchestra assembled for this concert was full of local luminaries including Concertmaster Ralph Morrison (best known as the bearded visage holding a Guarneri violin on the giant mural of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in Downtown Los Angeles), John Walz (Principal Cello of the Los Angeles Opera), and Darren Mulder (Principal Trumpet of LACO) . Mr. Walz in particular played some lovely solo lines throughout the evening.
- If a conductor decides to say some words from the stage about an evening’s program, all of them should do it like Mr. Gershon: brief, charming, and with information not necessarily included in the printed program.
Los Angeles Master Chorale: December 16, 2012; Walt Disney Concert Hall
Grant Gershon, conductor
Bach: Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden
- Deborah Mayhan, soprano
- Ayana Haviv, soprano
- Janelle DeStefano, mezzo-soprano
- Risa Larson, soprano
- Harriet Fraser, soprano
- Niké St. Clair, mezzo-soprano
- Brandon Hynum, tenor
- Steve Pence, baritone
Photo credit: Lee Salem