Master Chorale displays undimmed virtuosity with Mozart’s Requiem Mass

By Lawrence Budmen

Musical director Brett Karlin leading the Master Chorale of South Florida on Friday night in Fort Lauderdale. Photo: Ginny Dixon

The Master Chorale of South Florida is exponentially better under the musical direction of Brett Karlin than it was before he assumed the post eight years ago. The male voices that were once a weak link became strong and firmly supported. The excellent female singers re-emerged with a sturdier and more integrated foundation for their loftiest soprano flights.

The Covid-19 pandemic interrupted that progress but didn’t arrest it. On Friday night at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Karlin and the Master Chorale resumed live performance after 19 months with an emotional and beautifully sung Requiem Mass in D Minor by Mozart and three other selections that marked a welcome return to form. 

Opting for the Franz Xavier Süssmayr version of the mass completed after Mozart’s untimely death, Karlin employed deliberate tempos, weighted choral lines and strong accents to elicit appropriate grandeur and sweep from the singers and a 30-piece orchestra. In the score’s many fugal sections, counterpoint was precisely articulated and transparent. 

Karlin summoned fury from the assembled forces in the “Dies Irae,” while “Rex Tremendae” sounded like a cry of despair from the soul’s depths that was almost frightening in its power. The famous melody of the “Lacrymosa” was eloquently shaped, with finely terraced dynamics. The singers and instrumentalists brought the mass to a powerful, emphatic close with Süssmayr’s setting of the “Lux aeterna” and “Cum sanctis tuis” texts to the same music Mozart created for the first two movements. 

Among a quartet of soloists, Jonathan Woody’s muscular bass-baritone had full access to the requisite deep low notes for the “Tuba mirum,” and tenor Aaron Crouch’s aristocratic sense of phrasing and classical style were admirably displayed. Clara Osowski, a recent standout with Seraphic Fire, deployed an attractively mellow, warmly colored mezzo voice in solo passages while blending mellifluously with her colleagues in quartet. Robyn Marie Lamp exhibited soprano star quality from her initial entrance to the solo that introduces the choral finale.

The sublime melody of the “Benedictus,” written by Süssmayr, was imbued with great immediacy and supple nuance by all four singers. Solo trombone, trumpets, winds and timpani were especially outstanding in the orchestra. 

The chorale and orchestra appearing on Friday at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church for the ensemble’s first live performance in 19 months. Photo: Ginny Dixon

Mozart’s valedictory opus was preceded by two brief and rarely heard works. The first movement of contemporary composer Adolphus Hailstork’s setting of Psalm 121, I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes, proved a joyous concert opener. Fusing mainstream classical Americana with African-American spiritual traditions of call and response, Hailstork has created a festive ode to faith. From the chorus’ first entry, it was heartening to hear the Master Chorale in such fine form. Karlin was an energetic presence on the podium, drawing full-bodied corporate vocalism from the ensemble. The group’s unanimity of attack and phrasing were impressive, and Crouch’s heroic tenor soared in the upper registers of a demanding solo.

The melodic and celebratory Te Deum, by José Maurício Nunes García (1767-1830), likewise got a suitably spirited performance. This work by the Brazilian priest, choir master and composer — who conducted the South American premiere of Mozart’s Requiem — was strongly influenced by the wunderkind from Salzburg. A mix of Baroque and classical, Te Deum is replete with surprises and thematic threads taking unexpected turns. Backed by the precise playing of the Arcadian Ensemble, the chorus sang Garcia’s score resoundingly, filling the spacious church sanctuary with vibrant, plangent tones. Lamp’s radiant soprano timbre and clear top notes registered with bell-like clarity in “Te ergo,” the second movement. Crouch’s coloratura runs were clear and precise in the solo passages of the opening section. In “Dignare, Domine,” the quartet of Lamp, Crouch, Osowski and Woody was beautifully blended and balanced.

A large audience awarded Karlin and the singers repeated standing ovations throughout the concert. Following the emotional heights of the Requiem, Karlin concluded the program with Mozart’s angelic motet “Ave verum corpus,” a selection sung with subtlety and grace.

The Master Chorale of South Florida repeats the program  4 p.m. Sunday at FAU University Theatre in Boca Raton.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Master Chorale displays undimmed virtuosity with Mozart’s Requiem Mass”

  1. Posted Nov 20, 2021 at 4:48 pm by Laura

    It was truly a moving and uplifting evening!

  2. Posted Nov 21, 2021 at 12:05 pm by Miriam Brocato

    Brett Karlin is absolutely brilliant! Congratulations Brett!!

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Sat Nov 20, 2021
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