On Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, the LA Master Chorale gave another ambitious concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, featuring two grand vocal works for orchestra and chorus. Joining the complete 115 members of the Chorale, were the LA Children’s Chorus and guest soloists. The program contrasted the sacred work Te Deum for double chorus and orchestra by Verdi, with the 20th century ever popular choral work the exciting and complex Carmina Burana,by Carl Orff.
The great 19th century opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi, known for his many famous Italian grand operas, wrote the Te Deum at the age of 82, shortly before he died. This dramatic but relatively short work is often performed alongside his other religious work, the "Requiem." The Te Deum is based on an ancient Latin text, elements of the Credo with other texts praising God and begging for salvation. Filled with personal and anguished expression, the piece employs a rich polyphonic and operatic style along with Gregorian chant. It is Verdi at his best.
Music Director, Grant Gershon conducted with grand gestures, in a more dramatic fashion than usual. The orchestra was seated on the stage, while the Chorale sat above them in a kind of loft. Both groups performed together with astonishing clarity and cohesion, despite the physical separation between them. In this performance, Verdi’s music came through in all its grandeur and passion, thrillingly performed with ringing tones and passionate conviction.
After intermission, the orchestra and Chorale returned to perform a much longer work, Carl Orff’s modern masterpiece, Carmina Burana. Described as “a scenic cantata” by the German composer, the music is set to 24 Medieval Latin poems of a secular nature, grouped in five major sections: Fortune - Empress of the World, In Spring, In the Meadow, In the Tavern, and The court of Love. The poems express the ups and down of fortune, erotic and romantic love, wild drinking songs, and joys of nature.
Written in 1936, Orff’s musical style is similar to Stravinsky’s early music such as "Les Noces" or “The Rite of Spring.” Conceived as a theatrical work, it was first performed in Germany, fully staged at the Frankfurt Opera House, with sets, costumes, and ballet.
The orchestra's role for this colorful and rhythmic piece, extensive percussion and timpanni sections, was essential to the success of the evening. Comprised of some of Los Angeles's best musicians, they performed Orff’s exuberant and at times explosive music with abandon and precision. In contrast, both Grant Gershon’s conducting and the Chorale’s performance were less effective.
Rather than placing the singers on risers next to the orchestra, and thus closer as well to the audience, they remained high above the stage in the choir loft area. The opening songs came off stiffly, and the brilliant and pointed singing needed for Orff’s frequent staccato declamation of text, was missing. The Chorale's muddy Latin diction and pallid softer sections were also problematical. However, as the piece continued, the Chorale gained dramatic power and vocal clarity.
Especially moving was the delicate shimmer of the Sopranos in their poignant lament, exclaiming "Oh! Who will Love me?" in song#7, Floret Silva (The Noble Woods). The robust singing of the men was wonderfully articulated in the dramatic song #14, In Taberna Quando Sumus (When we are in the Tavern).
The best moments came in the songs and dances of the final section, “Court of Love.” Especially memorable was the 22nd song, Tempus Est Locundum (This is the Joyful Time) where the repeated “O, Oh, Oh, I am bursting out all over! I am burning all over with first love” was sung with great urgency and conviction, along with the guest artists, Baritone, José Adán Pérez and Soprano, Stacey Tappan.
The honeyed tones of guest soloist Baritone, José Adán Pérez, were a pleasure to hear. Particularly impressive was his embodiment of the drunken and angry Abbot, Ego Sum Abas (I am the Abbot) and Esturans Interius (Burning Inside) with its bitter and passionate outpouring of despair. Though his expressive baritone voice showed a beautiful range of colors and dynamics, it was essentially too light weight for the role.
Guest soloist, Stacey Tappan, soprano, dressed in a red gown that suggested innocence, was perfectly cast in her role as the Young Maiden, longing for her first love affair. Tappan's refined phrasing was matched by an elegant and compelling stage presence. Her small voiced, but shimmering lyric coloratura soprano carried easily in the hall, especially in her final solo, #22, Dulcissime with it's soaring high notes,which was gorgeously sung.
LA Chorale member, tenor Timothy Gonzales, portrayed the comic yet tragic solo of the dying, cooked Swan with great charm. Normally sung by a more powerful tenor voice, his beautiful phrasing, diction, and passionate delivery made this famous solo with it's very high notes thoroughly convincing.
The LA Children’s Chorus was heard in the final section, Court of Love. Performing along with soloist, Stacey Tappan in Amor Volat Undique and in Tempus est iocundum, with both the Baritone and Soprano soloists, the children sang with beautiful, clear tones and excellent Latin diction.
At the conclusion of the work, with the repeat of the dramatic O Fortuna, the combined forces of orchestra and Chorale exploded into full force, bringing the audience to its feet in a standing ovation.
For more information about the rest of the LA Master Chorale's 2013-2014 season see: www.http://www.lamc.org