Master Chorale takes flight with an outstanding “Creation”

By Lawrence Budmen

Brett Karlin conducted the Master Chorale of South Florida in Haydn's "The Creation" Friday night in Fort Lauderdale.

Brett Karlin conducted the Master Chorale of South Florida in Haydn’s “The Creation” Friday night in Fort Lauderdale.

Over the past six seasons, the partnership of the Master Chorale of South Florida and artistic director Brett Karlin has yielded some outstanding performances of major choral works.

On Friday night that special chemistry reached its apex with an inspired reading of Franz Joseph Haydn’s oratorio The Creation at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale.

Haydn’s masses and other choral works are the least performed scores in the vast output by the father of the symphony and string quartet. To his credit, Karlin has championed this repertoire from his first concert with the Master Chorale in 2013.

Based on the Book of Genesis with a tip of the hat to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, The Creation is a musical depiction and commentary on the seven days of creation and the initial joyous hours of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. The score finds Haydn at the height of his powers with felicitous instrumental tone painting and an endless flow of melodically inspired arias and chorales.

Karlin’s mastery of choral and instrumental timbres and affinity for Haydn produced a reading that did full justice to this magnum opus. His spacious approach to the initial orchestral depiction of chaos gave way to the sudden orchestral outburst at the first sign of light to appropriately stunning effect. In the chorus’s full-throated  roclamation of “Awake the harp, the lyre awake!,” Karlin brought out the fugal writing with clarity. His lilting tempo for “The heavens are telling the glory of God,”  conveyed the charm as well as joy in the culminating trio and chorus of Part I.

While the female voices have always been a strong part of the ensemble, the male voices also projected with heft and unity. Choral textures were clear and delineated with precision. throughout, and Karlin’s coordination and balancing kept the focus on the score’s felicitous details.

His relaxed tempo for “Most beautiful appear; the Lord is great” matched the grace of Haydn’s music and the vigor of “Achieved is the glorious work” radiated the music’s triumphant humanity.  The fleet tempo of the final quartet and chorus “Praise the Lord, ye voices all! with its repeated “Amen” capped a performance where high spirits never became hectic or over-driven. Both the spiritual reverence and radiant warmth of Haydn’s masterwork were richly served.

The recitatives and arias for the three vocal soloists require singers with reserves of power and agility. As the angel Gabriel and later Eve, Nola Richardson was totally delightful, displaying nimble coloratura and a light voice of penetrating beauty. Confirming the strong impression she made in Seraphic Fire’s 2018 performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Richardson’s bright timbre and dulcet high notes were thrilling in “The marvelous work beholds”  and she ignited sparks with the perfectly placed trills of “On mighty pens uplifted.”

Steven Soph has long been a pillar of the South Florida choral-vocal scene and he was in peak form for the spare recitative and extended flights of Uriel. Clear enunciation, attention to subtleties of dynamics  and expressive detailing are hallmarks of his smooth, strongly projected lyric tenor. Soph’s patrician sense of classical style and freely produced top range took the full martial stride of “In native worth and honor clad.”

Dashon Burton, a frequent guest soloist with both the Master Chorale and Seraphic Fire, was a tower of strength as Raphael and Adam. His bass-baritone was alternately stentorian and softly mellow. Burton’s animated description of the creation of animals was rendered with wry wit and his superb declamation of “Now heav’n in fullest glory shown” was sweeping in sheer power.

Richardson and Burton’s voices blended wonderfully in the happy duos of Adam and Eve. For the final ensemble, the three singers were joined by mezzo Heather Osowiecki (a member of the choir), and the combined voices blended beautifully.

The student players of the Lynn Philharmonia (from Lynn University in Boca Raton) handled Haydn’s instrumental demands with surprising skill. After some initial tentativeness in the orchestral prelude, string attacks were clean and unified. The crucial horn parts were rendered with accuracy and the three flutes flowed in the idyllic tones of Eden’s garden. The players’ high standard of performance was a strong indicator of Karlin’s careful rehearsal and preparation.

A highlight of South Florida’s music season, Karlin’s outstanding realization of one of the choral literature’s greatest works sets a new standard for the Master Chorale and its future presentations.

The Master Chorale of South Florida repeats The Creation 4 p.m. Sunday at Lynn University’s Wold Performing Arts Center in Boca Raton.

The 2019-2020 season of the Master Chorale opens on November 15 and 17 with a program of works by Bach, Vivaldi and Handel. Other programs feature “Cocktails and Carols” (December), Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (February, 2020) and Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah (May 1 and 3, 2020).

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Sat May 4, 2019
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