By Douglas Neslund
It began with a crashingly loud “God Is Gone Up” by Gerald Finzi and ended with an encore Mormon Tabernacle Choir version of “Come Thou Fount of Many Blessings” that allowed the sopranos of the Master Chorale to reach the highest note of the evening.
Throughout the concert, a very Anglican (and sometimes Episcopalian) flavor permeated the Walt Disney Concert Hall, with frequent contributions from Disney Hall’s pipe organ, masterfully played by the tag team of Paul Meier and Kimo Smith. In fact, the Master Chorale’s programme was entitled “Organ Extravaganza” – an attempt to feature that instrument with chorus. Okay.
Nico Muhly’s “Bright Mass with Canons” was reprised from the Master Chorale’s 2010 season, and seems, well, brighter this time around. Kimo Smith kept the Walt Disney Concert Hall Organ to an excellent balance with the Chorale, in support of Chorale soloists Tamara Bevard and Karen Hogle Brown (sopranos), and Tracy Van Fleet (mezzo soprano).
Arvo Pärt’s The Beatitudes and Paul Mealor’s “Ubi caritas” led to the pre-intermission Lesley Leighton-conducted bombast of Hubert Parry’s “I Was Glad,” which was taken at the slowest tempo ever, and was probably meant to suggest dignity and pompous pomp, if not circumstance.
Nico Muhly was given a second hearing in a West coast premiere performance of “A Good Understanding” despite the fact the work was recorded by the Master Chorale and committed to a recording issued last season. The work included participation by the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and percussionist Nick Terry, who produced undoubtedly the loudest noise ever to be heard in Disney Hall, ever, with an enormous blow to a bass drum that certainly got the attention of everyone in attendance. By comparison, the children sang weakly, if in perfect unison. Their director, Anne Tomlinson, conducted her choir in the lively four-part treble setting of Psalm 150 (O Praise God in His Holiness) by Sir David Willcocks.
Arguably the finest item on the menu was Tarik O’Regan’s “Dorchester Canticles” featuring tenor Todd Strange, with Mr. Terry and Mr. Meier accompanying the Master Chorale. But the loudest applause of the evening was rewarded to tenor Daniel Cheney, who soloed in Kurt Weill’s “Kiddush” with such passion and commitment, one could scarcely believe a better performance of the work were possible. Kiddush is worthy of far greater exposure than it has gotten thus far.
Judith Weir’s “Ascending Into Heaven” closed the scheduled performance, featuring Chorale members Niké St. Clair and Janelle DeStefano (mezzo sopranos), Michael Lichtenauer (tenor) and Scott Graff (bass).
What appeared upon initial impression to be a smørgasbord of choral eclecticism turned out to be a very interesting season opener for our illustrious Chorale and its - our - superb maestro, Grant Gershon.