Master Chorale makes impressive showing in Mozart Requiem

By Lawrence Budmen

Mozart’s Requiem was performed by the Master Chorale of South Florida Friday night in Fort Lauderdale.

The Master Chorale of South Florida has made great artistic progress under the leadership of Brett Karlin. After two seasons, Karlin has shaped the choir into a highly responsive instrument. Mozart’s Requiem, the featured work on the group’s opening concert of the season Friday night at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, was an impressive vehicle for the chorale’s rekindled strength.

In pre-performance remarks, Karlin described the program as a meditation on loss and renewal. He prefaced the Mozart with the brief cantata “Au Manus” from Membra Jesu Nostri by Dieterich Buxtehude. Accompanied by string trio, this deeply reverent Baroque rumination on Jesus’s agony on the cross was astutely paced by Karlin who never allowed the predominately slow music to plod. The choral sound was full and resonant and soprano Sherezade Panthaki’s clear top range, sans vibrato, registered deep emotion in the Baroque slides and curves of the solo passages.

Joined by members of The Symphonia, Boca Raton, Karlin led a clear cut, forthright traversal of Mozart’s flawed masterpiece. What the performance lacked was that extra inspiration and monumentality that a more experienced podium hand can bring to Mozart’s swan song.

Left incomplete at the composer’s death, the Requiem was finished by Franz Xavier Süssmayr,  a friend and pupil of Mozart. With only the first two movements fully notated and orchestrated, Süssmayr worked from a plethora of sketches by Mozart but also filled in the gaps with his own writing. The resulting hybrid fusion is uneven, mixing the work of one of the greatest geniuses in music history with that of a less talented disciple. Still the score represents Mozart at the height of his powers and its best moments are powerful and deeply moving.

The Master Chorale is now a well-blended, vocally strong ensemble. The female voices were strong and secure, and the unsteady pitch and weakness of the men’s voices that hampered the group’s performances in the past was nowhere in evidence.

From the first entrance, choral sound was emphatic and strongly present in the resonant acoustic of the Coral Ridge sanctuary, a major improvement over the muffled sound of First Presbyterian Church of Pompano Beach, the chorus’ former Broward County performance venue.

In the difficult opening of the Dies Irae, the choral attack was vigorous, the accompanying string figures precise and in unison. Orchestral playing was smooth and well coordinated. Karlin’s taut direction aptly radiated the music’s sense of terror. The contrasts and shifts between delicate melodic lines and fierce interjections in the Lacrymosa were assayed with hairpin accuracy. Karlin brought grandeur and weight to the opening of the Sanctus, the choral declamation over timpani registering to impressive effect. The slow tempo of the fugue at the movement’s conclusion was the sole podium misstep in an otherwise vibrant and impressive reading.

Panthaki’s high soprano rode over the finely integrated vocal quartet of the Recordare. Backed by a stalwart solo trombone, bass-baritone Dashon Burton’s deep low notes and smooth projection confirmed the strong impression he made last season in a Bach cantata with Seraphic Fire. Luthien Brackett’s distinctively cool mezzo timbre and Steven Soph’s finely shaded lyric tenor added balance to the quartet, the blend of voices in the Benedictus near ideal. The entire concert proved one of the Master Chorale’s most successful offerings of recent seasons.

The Master Chorale of South Florida repeats Mozart’s Requiem 8 p.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables and 4 p.m. Sunday at the Roberts Theater, St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Master Chorale makes impressive showing in Mozart Requiem”

  1. Posted Oct 24, 2015 at 6:48 pm by Sandra

    I thought it was a great evening of beautiful music.

  2. Posted Oct 25, 2015 at 1:32 pm by Ron Arnason

    WOW ~ This guy is one schmart cookie !!!

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Sat Oct 24, 2015
at 2:21 pm