Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Górecki Night at the LA Master Chorale

by Douglas Neslund

Silesian-born composer Henryk Górecky was given the posthumous honor of closing the Los Angeles Master Chorale's 48th season, together with a motet by Johannes Brahms serving as a palate refresher.

Maestro Grant Gershon chose Górecky's "Lobgesang" (Song of Praise) and the five devotional songs that comprise "Piesni Maryjne" (Marian Songs) before concluding with the composer's "Miserere." The overriding mood of these a cappella items is contemplative. As Lobgesang was composed to mark the 600th anniversary of the birth of Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of moveable type, the debut performance of which was presented four years ago by the Master Chorale . The work is accompanied by glockenspiel, played by the redoubtable Theresa Dimond, which spelled out "Gutenberg" in musical terms in three iterations over the German word "ewig" (forever), sung in an almost inaudible pianississimo by the choir. One scarcely breathes in such magical moments.

Brahms was well represented by his motet "Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein rein Herz" (Create in me, O God, a pure heart - Psalm 51). After the essentially nonharmonic opening, it was something of a relief to hear a bit of traditional harmonies, thesis, if you will, after the arsis.

"Piesni Maryjne" are devotions to Mary, the Mother of Jesus in the Polish language, written in the late communist era but first performed two decades later, after the fall of the regime. The tunes around which four of the five devotions were written were pre-existing melodies that Poles would instantly recognize. The overarching mood of these songs are contemplative and prayerful. As such, they present the underrepresented opposite end of the choral dynamic spectrum from most other choral compositions appearing in a season's listings, and served as something of a challenge to our stalwart choral corps, one which they handled with exquisite touch.

After intermission, the audience was treated to the full monte, the entire Master Chorale, in all their glory, to sing Górecky's "Miserere," begun four years before the Marian Songs. The eight Chorale sections sang in an increasing amplitude, starting with the second basses singing three simple words, "Domine, Deus noster" (Lord, our God),  with the first bass section joining them in a repeat, and so on until we finally arrive at all eight sections joining together in the final iteration.

The Master Chorale sang with all its usual great tone and close attention, which allowed Maestro Gershon to shape phrases literally at will. If it were possible that the singers paid even closer attention to his direction, it should be said that the same repertoire was scheduled for recording sessions in the days to follow, with issuance of a CD scheduled for the fall.

Master Chorale tenor and composer-arranger Shawn Kirchner was appointed as the Swan Family Composer in Residence beginning July 1st. The first commission from this appointment will be heard in next season's "The American Concert" on June 2, 2013. His compositions and arrangements have been heard over many recent seasons to great acclaim.

The final concert of each season brings with it a wistful note of farewell to Chorale members who sang their last concert. This year's valedictorians included (in descending length of service): Kyra Humphrey (23 years!), Robert Lewis (21 years), Emily Lin (20), David Tinoco (19), Deborah Briggs (12), Stephanie Sharpe Peterson (11), Jay Kenton (6), James Callon (4) and Steven Chemtob (3). They will all be missed.

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1 comment:

Rodney Punt said...

Doug, thanks for this fine posting and in general for your good work covering many choral concerts. Glad to have you on board at LA Opus.

Upward and onward.