Despite inspired choral singing, Master Chorale’s Verdi let down by dismal conducting and student orchestra
Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem is the Italian master’s sacred opera. Conceived as a memorial to the great Italian poet and writer Alessandro Manzoni, Verdi’s creation burns with the passion and incendiary power of his late operas Don Carlo and Otello. The musical demands of this fiery score are massive requiring a terrific chorus, superb orchestra, four first-class soloists and a conductor of sufficient stature to bring this masterpiece to life.
Unfortunately, the Master Chorale of South Florida’s performance Thursday night at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Miami only fitfully reached the required standard.
The Master Chorale is now a highly polished unit that can conquer the intricacies of major choral masterworks. All credit to Joshua Habermann who leaves at the conclusion of this season to become choral director for the Dallas Symphony. In just three seasons, Habermann has greatly improved the group’s sonority and ensemble skills.
The male voices, once a weak link in nearly every performance, now come through with strength and luster. Despite Trinity Cathedral’s cloudy acoustic, the chorus rose to the big climaxes in the heaven-storming Dies Irae. In the spirited Sanctus, the female voices wove an enticing melodic line. Habermann’s training was evident in the strongly gauged dynamic contrasts and clarity in the contrapuntal episodes.
Yet without strong leadership and brilliant orchestra playing, much of the fine choral performance went for naught. Albert-George Schram’s plodding conducting robbed the score of much of its combustible fire and majesty. Best known as a pops conductor, Schram lacked any sense of forward momentum and intensity. Verdi’s most inspired melodic arcs were often reduced to mundane statements. There was little terror in his Day of Judgment or repose in the Lux Aeterna and a wealth of orchestral detail was lost in Schram’s coarse realization.
Verdi’s massive orchestral score is definitely not material for a student ensemble, except perhaps on the Juilliard or Curtis level. Despite a strong effort, the Lynn University Philharmonia often struggled just to articulate the notes accurately. The tepid orchestral performance lowered the musical temperature considerably. While the trumpets blazed impressively in the Dies Irae, poor wind and string intonation and imprecise ensemble sometimes reduced Verdi’s sonorous orchestration to a blur. The Master Chorale does itself and its audience—as well as the masterworks it performs—a disservice by employing student forces.
Wayne Shepperd’s hollow sounding bass-baritone and lack of legato shortchanged the Confutatis maledictis. Throughout the work, Shepperd rarely blended with the other members of the quartet, hectoring his lines.
The other three soloists fared better. Scott Ramsay sang an ardent Ingemisco with a bright lyric tenor of strength and beauty. Christin-Marie Hill revealed a world class mezzo-soprano, warm and dusky in timbre, intense in declamation. She moved seamlessly from balancing the ensemble to dominating the stage in her solo opportunities. Hill is a natural for the leading Verdi mezzo roles.
Although still a student at the Yale School of Music, Amanda Hall sang with conviction and thrust that cut through the choral-orchestral forces at full tilt. Her clear, pure soprano, devoid of vibrato or scooping, was a tower of strength in the concluding Libera Me.
Still, despite some fine choral singing, this Verdi Requiem proved considerably less than the sum of its parts.
The Master Chorale of South Florida repeats the Verdi Requiem 8 p.m. Friday at Second Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at Lynn University in Boca Raton. 561-237-9000 www.masterchoraleofsouthflorida.org.
Posted in Performances
4 Responses to “Despite inspired choral singing, Master Chorale’s Verdi let down by dismal conducting and student orchestra”
Leave a Comment
Fri Mar 25, 2011
at 11:11 am