Master Chorale’s new conductor makes impressive debut

By Lawrence Budmen

Brett Karlin conducted the Master Chorale of South Florida Friday night in his debut concert with the ensemble.

Brett Karlin conducted the Master Chorale of South Florida Friday night in his debut concert with the ensemble.

Brett Karlin made an auspicious debut as artistic director and conductor of the Master Chorale of South Florida on Friday night at the First Presbyterian Church in Pompano Beach.

In recent seasons, leadership of this choir has seemed like a revolving door. Karen Kennedy, Karlin’s immediate predecessor, stayed only one season. Formed from the remnants of the Florida Philharmonic Chorus a decade ago, the Master Chorale’s original stated mission was to perform major chorale masterpieces. The group has seemed more like a chorus for hire recently, performing with  such visiting attractions as the Cleveland Orchestra and Andrea Bocelli. Hopefully Karlin can help right the balance.

Karlin, 27, grew up in Boca Raton, and is the former assistant conductor of Seraphic Fire and presently conductor of the Miami Choral Academy, that choir’s educational initiative. His astutely chosen initial program was a tribute to St. Cecilia, the Patron Saint of Music. Friday’s performance coincided with St. Cecilia’s Day.

One of the weaknesses of the chorus’ presentations has been the variable quality of vocal soloists but the four solo singers chosen by Karlin were exceptionally capable. Likewise the playing of members of The Symphonia, (formerly Boca Raton Symphonia) was crisp and precise.

Karlin’s vigorous leadership was immediately evident in the chorus “Hail Bright Cecilia” from Purcell’s 1692 Ode to St. Cecilia. Trumpet flourishes heralded a festive burst of song. The vocal quartet was well balanced and the chorale’s corporate sound resonant and finely blended despite the sanctuary’s muffled acoustics. Karlin’s lean, unflashy baton technique seems to pay dividends, keeping his ensembles’ concentration on the score at hand.

Excerpts from Handel’s 1739 Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day spotlighted Sherezade Panthaki in arias and recitatives of operatic dimensions. Panthaki’s impressive resume includes solo work with such Baroque specialists as Nicholas McGegan, William Christie and Masaaki Suzuki.

Her high soprano floated effortlessly in the coloratura of “The Trumpet’s Loud Clangor”, the trumpet obbligato assayed with flashy brilliance by Jeffrey Kaye. “But What Art can Teach” was vocally radiant, Panthaki’s light, expressive sound recalling the young Benita Valente, and she tackled the roulades of “Orpheus Could Lead” at whirlwind tempo.

Brad Diamond, a veteran of Seraphic Fire, unfurled a finely calibrated lyric tenor with an impressive high extension for the recitative “From Harmony,” Handel’s volatile, mood shifting description of the Creation. The much improved male singers brought strength to the low bass writing and Karlin achieved clarity of texture in the contrapuntal choral sections. The concluding “As From the Pow’r of Sacred Lays” was properly celebratory, the orchestra’s spare vibrato and clean articulation blending felicitously with the choir.

Haydn’s Mass No. 3 in C Major has been called the Cacilienmesse (Cecilia Mass) but recent scholarship reveals that the 1776 score was, in fact, composed in honor of the Virgin Mary. Haydn’s masses are among the least frequently performed of his major works. These scores fuse classical grace, ceremonial pomp and deeply felt reverence with mastery of choral and vocal writing.

Karlin deserves credit for programming this wonderful work and should continue to explore this rarely heard repertoire in future concerts. From the long, flowing and solemn choral introduction, the mass is first-rate Haydn. Karlin’s bold accents and well pointed counterpoint emphasized the work’s classical grace, integrating chorus and soloists with subtle assurance. Some brief unwieldy choral singing in the opening section was quickly righted.

Amanda Crider’s burnished mezzo and elegant phrasing blended with Diamond’s florid singing and John Buffett’s resonant baritone for an ethereal “Domine Deus.” “Quoniam tu solus sanctus” resembles Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate with two trumpets and timpani adding to the joyous vocal paean. Panthaki sailed through the trills and ornamentation, capping the aria with two impressive high C’s.

Karlin exerted strong control over his forces, achieving contrasts of soft pianissimo singing and full-throated choral outbursts. With better acoustical venues in the Boca Raton and Miami repeat performances this weekend, the clear strong chemistry between the Master Chorale and their new leader should be even more potent.

The Master Chorale of South Florida repeats the program 8 p.m. Saturday at Lynn University’s  Wold Performing Arts Center in Boca Raton and 4 p.m. Sunday at First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables.

Posted in Performances

3 Responses to “Master Chorale’s new conductor makes impressive debut”

  1. Posted Nov 23, 2013 at 9:04 pm by Carol Frei

    What a fantastic concert! The audience was spellbound! The orchestra was excellent. It reminded us of the Florida Philharmonic days with the chorus.

  2. Posted Nov 24, 2013 at 9:50 am by Dr. Terrell Manyak

    Your review was right on target. I would add that Ms. Panthaki had a quality of power in her voice that overcame the acoustical limitations of the venue. I also enjoyed the boyish energy and love for music that was infectious with Mr. Karlin. Another year of his direction will bring even more discipline to a choral group that seemed to lose direction particularly under the leadership of Ms. Kennedy.

  3. Posted Nov 24, 2013 at 11:42 pm by Ralph Shafer

    Way to go Brett, we miss you at the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay

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Sat Nov 23, 2013
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