Kennedy makes Master Chorale debut in an early holiday concert with substance

By Alan Becker

Karen Kennedy led the Master Chorale of South Florida in a holiday program Friday night in Fort Lauderdale.

Karen Kennedy, the new music director of the Master Chorale of South Florida, made her debut with the chorus Friday night with “Bach to the Holidays.” Backed by soloists and members of the Miami Symphony Orchestra, the Master Chorale had the Second Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale jumping with enthusiastic if rather early holiday spirit.

Bach’s Magnificat was originally composed to be part of the Roman Catholic Vespers service, and is Mary’s song of praise to God when her cousin Elisabeth greeted her as mother of the Lord. His original Christmas textural references were subsequently removed, several changes made to the instrumentation, and the work was transposed from E flat to D.

The Master Chorale, in its first appearance under Kennedy, handled the contrapuntal textures well, although the Church’s reverberant acoustic is not well suited to clarifying large forces. Perhaps the two remaining venues might do better in this respect.

No such problem existed in the four soloists’ ability to project clearly and with supple magnetism into the far reaches of the church. Soprano Ah Young Hong’s luscious tone was simply beautiful in her solo and in her ability to blend well with the other soloists. Mezzo Misty Bermudez, known locally as a member of Seraphic Fire,nbrought to her performance a discipline and joy that refreshed and nurtured the music. Tony Boutte’s strong, reliable tenor, and the sturdy bass of David Newman, were also invaluable in making a spirited contribution to the piece.

A properly reduced force of instrumental players from the Miami Symphony handled themselves well. Although little attempt was made to emulate period practice, the high tessitura of the trumpet part sounded forth with strength, clarity and accuracy.  The many instrumental solos were presented with liquid tone, and conductor Kennedy seemed inspired by Bach’s lofty music. The 13 short movements that constitute one of Bach’s most concise expressions were certainly in good hands.

Corelli’s well known Christmas Concerto and several carol-inspired pieces formed the remainder of the program.

Eric Whitacre is a name that has achieved some note recently for his remarkably original choral works. Born in Nevada in 1970, Whitacre has achieved an enviable reputation that, on the basis of his Lux Aurumque, is well earned. The music comes across as highly individual without resorting to sugary statement. Moreover, the music had one wishing to explore more from this composer.

A three-part Carol Symphony by James Bassi was commissioned to be performed alongside excerpts from Handel’s Messiah for a holiday concert and calls for similar forces. The orchestration is skillful, the entire work has style without cliche, and it doesn’t sound a bit like the usual awkward carol medleys.

Two Hanukkah songs, Mi Y’Maleil and S’Vivon, were sung in unaccompanied settings by Joseph Flummerfelt that effectively captured their joyful spirit while elevating the music to a loftier (and more ecumenical) plane than usual. The same was true of the three traditional, but unhackneyed, carols set for chorus and orchestra by Alexander R. Schumacker. It was refreshing to hear such skillful settings in a season that will shortly be dominated by dispiriting dreck.

The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Saturday at Lynn University in Boca Raton, and 4 p.m. Sunday at the First Methodist Church in Coral Gables. 

Posted in Performances

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Sat Nov 19, 2011
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