Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Los Angeles Master Chorale Reawakens the Renaissance

By Douglas Neslund

Maestro Grant Gershon strung beautiful Renaissance pearls together Sunday evening for a nearly capacity audience with many yearning to hear a cappella perfection as only the Los Angeles Master Chorale can. Here are the pearls:

            Thomas Tallis                     If Ye Love Me
            John Taverner                   Western Wind Mass: Gloria
            Tomás Luis de Victoria    Gaudent in coelis
            Josquin des Prez                Tu solus qui facis mirabilia
            William Byrd                      Sing Joyfully
            John Taverner                   Western Wind Mass: Credo
            Orlando di Lasso               O Crux Splendidior
            John Taverner                   Western Wind Mass: Sanctus/Benedictus
            Josquin des Prez                Ave nobilissima creatura
                                    (conducted by Lesley Leighton)
            Tomás Luis de Victoria    Vere Languores
            John Taverner                   Western Wind Mass: Agnus Dei
            William Byrd                      Laudibus in sanctis

            And as an encore that left many in the audience with dew in their eyes:

            Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s Alma Redemptoris Mater.

Maestro Gershon not only conducted, but instructed with the vim and vigor of a Jeffrey Kahane, soloed the entire tune embedded throughout the Taverner Western Wind Mass, as well as a couple of incipits! Other than that, on this “wear something black” evening, he had little to do.

The choral music of the Renaissance that has survived the centuries is characterized by its linear structure, which results in a horizontal and usually legato sound pattern except for the occasional hiccups (hockets) leading to a cadence. Melodies, many of which originate in chant sources (and some think, Hebrew chants as well), are introduced by one or two choral sections, with the rest of the choir entering later. The trick Renaissance composers needed to master was to preserve the original melody horizontally, so that it sounded harmonically in the vertical, as well. They were very good at it. The sometimes über-emotional music of the Baroque to follow contrasts with the Renaissance music that is cool and rarely dips into the cauldron of heated emotion.

Maestra Lesley Leighton’s approach to her des Prez item was a gem of clarity, and kept the 40-member Master Chorale restrained to allow the text the emotional element. Maestro Gershon announced Maestra Leighton’s appointment as the newly-appointed Director of the Chorale and Chamber Singers at UCLA. This drew a gasp from audience members of the USC Family, as this week is local college football’s Rivalry Game between USC and UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Perfect timing!

As to which pearls stood out, or not, suffice it to say they were a perfect string of beauty. If one were to be nitty-picky, as reviewers are wont to be, writing the nits and picks of this concert would be tantamount to reviewing a brand new Lamborghini Aventador and noting a mote of dust on the hood, a cat hair on the passenger’s seat or a fingerprint on the windshield. That level of criticism.

Occasionally, the bass section over-sang a phrase here or there. Often, one or two sopranos allowed breath support to relax before the end of a phrase, resulting in a perceptible wobble. Solo groupings – and there were many of those – were not always balanced (no names, milady). That completes the nits and picks.

One left Walt Disney Concert Hall feeling fulfilled by this concert, and not a few with a tear of remembrance for Roger Wagner and Paul Salamunovich, who excelled in this era of great music.


Photos by Steve Cohn, used with permission


Unknown said...

In many years of singing Renaissance music with Roger Wagner and Paul Salamunovich I never sang a piece which employed hocket, although I have come across it in other groups while singing 13th and 14th century music, particularly from England. I would like to know which Renaissance works, particularly in this concert, did use that technique?
Larry Minton (LAMC '81-98)

Douglas Neslund said...

I hope Grant, Leslie or one of the MC members can answer the question. There were at least two items, maybe three, that had hockets. That would not be something I would have taken note of though. Thanks for asking.

Douglas Neslund said...

Sorry, Lesley (not Leslie)