Despite inspired choral singing, Master Chorale’s Verdi let down by dismal conducting and student orchestra

By Lawrence Budmen

Giuseppe Verdi

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



Posted in Performances

4 Responses to “Despite inspired choral singing, Master Chorale’s Verdi let down by dismal conducting and student orchestra”

  1. Posted Mar 26, 2011 at 12:24 am by AndiSue

    I was at this performance and while I agree that the student orchestra was not up to the level of the chorus or soloists, I think to call Maestro Shram’s conducting “dismal” is really far too harsh. You may not have liked his interpretation of the score but it is a valid one, more along the lines of an opera than an oratorio. It was a bit too dramatic for my taste but certainly not dismal. The wonderful soloists and excellent chorus still make this performance worth seeing. They will be at Lynn University on Sunday afternoon.

  2. Posted Mar 27, 2011 at 7:40 am by Mike Ringler

    Not having attended Thursday evening’s performance, I am not in a position to respond to your attack on Maestro Schram and the students who comprise the Lynn University Philharmonia. My experience at Friday evening’s performance at “The Sanctuary” church in Ft. Lauderdale was diametrically the opposite of yours on Thursday. Maestro Schram’s conducting was positively inspired, the Lynn University Philharmonia students “articulated the notes” at a level rivaling many of the local professional orchestras utilized in the past by the Master Chorale, and of course, the Master Chorale and guest soloists simply soared. The result was a performance that captured the entire audience, leading to a thunderous explosion of applause and cheering after the final notes and “amens” of Verdi’s work had stilled the very air within “The Sanctuary”. For you to so cruelly belittle Maestro Schram and the obviously gifted students of the Lynn University Philharmonia, was amateurish and unnecessary.

  3. Posted Mar 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm by Julie Heffner

    I attended Friday nights concert and thought it was wonderful. Yes, at times the orchestra was not as clean and precise as a professional orchestra, but the students at Lynn University outdid themselves and should be proud. The soloists did an outstanding job, including performing this work four days in a row. The Master Chorale has be able to maintain itself, after the demise of the Florida Philharmonic, and has been giving the audience over the years better and better performances. The chorale showed with this work that they are a good, strong group who will, hopefully be around for years to come. South Florida got to hear a great piece of music that was presented with great feeling from all the performers. It is a shame that South Florida is loosing Dr Habermann to the Dallas Symphony, but we South Floridians do not care enough to fight to keep good caliber artists here. Some of us forget that we now life in Florida and not HOME (where ever that was) and need to contribute to the cultural arts here.

  4. Posted Mar 28, 2011 at 11:02 pm by Dolly Davis

    Mr. Budmen, thanks for sharing your honest opinion in this article. I often read your reviews and find them to be very gentle and forgiving, and it is good to read blunt, no matter how harsh it might appear to some. You are right when say that Verdi’s Requiem requires sensitivity, planning and maturity from all parties involved. I saw this performance and have to agree with you. What I don’t understand is why the Master Chorale chose to employ a student ensemble when they’ve had so much success with professional groups (Boca Raton Symphonia and Miami Symphony) in the past.

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Fri Mar 25, 2011
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