Karlin, Master Chorale reach the heights with Bach’s Mass in B minor

By David Fleshler

Brett Karlin conducted the Master Chorale of South Florida in Bach's Mass in B minor Friday night in Fort Lauderdale.

Brett Karlin conducted the Master Chorale of South Florida in Bach’s Mass in B minor Friday night in Fort Lauderdale.

Bach’s Mass in B Minor ranks with—and many would say above–Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem and Brahms’ German Requiem as one of the world’s greatest choral works.

The Master Chorale of South Florida performed Bach’s masterpiece Friday at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, giving a performance that while far from perfect, brought out both the depths and joyous heights of this great work.

There were some blurry entrances, uneven solo work and intonation problems in The Symphonia’s violins. But artistic director and conductor Brett Karlin’s assured leadership and deep sense of the music’s structure–along with some inspired singing and brilliant work by some of the orchestral musicians–yielded a performance that expressed the mass’s grandeur, mystery and exaltation.

Particularly strong was the sequence that relates Christ’s birth, crucifixion and resurrection. Against a stark, spare accompaniment in the orchestra in Et incarnatus est, Karlin led a performance that was full of mystery and darkness. He paced the Crucifixus brilliantly, generating a pulsing, almost imperceptible build up in this searching, otherworldly music, setting up a great expression of joy and light in the Et resurrexit.

From the massed voices of the chorus, the sound was full, rounded and well blended, with a natural flow to the singing that provided a warmly human element to music that can come across as ethereal and otherworldly. At times entrances were crisp and distinct, at other times, such as in the counterpoint of the Kyrie, they were muddy and unfocused.

The baritone Paul Max Tipton brought a smooth, refined voice to his solo passages. But from a row toward the back, his singing was underprojected, lacking the bite and power to cut through the orchestra. This was particularly stark in Quoniam tu solus sanctus, in which the highlight was the supple and robust horn playing of Brett Miller. This may have been a problem more with the church’s acoustics, since a similar lack of projection came from the otherwise strong, affecting performance of the tenor Dann Coakwell.

Higher voices came through more clearly. Soprano Jolle Greenleaf’s solo in Laudamus te was agile and light in its jubilant expression of praise for God. And countertenor Douglas Dodson’s glossy voice was a highlight, particularly in Qui sedes, in which his tones harmonized effectively with the solo oboe.

The highlight from the orchestra came from the three trumpet players. Their radiant, but never overbearing playing, provided the joyous top to those passages of religious exaltation of which Bach was a master, such as the Gloria, Cum Sancto Spiritu and Gratias agimus tibi. In the Gratias, Karlin led a stirring crescendo, with ascending voices, trumpet and a rolling timpani combined for one of the work’s most stirring passages.

The Master Chorale of South Florida will perform Bach’s B Minor Mass 8 p.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church, Coral Gables, and 4 p.m. Sunday at The Roberts Theatre, St. Andrews School, Boca Raton. masterchoraleofsouthflorida.org



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Sat Nov 19, 2016
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