Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Music reviews: Confident 'Creation,' strong 'Turandot,' elegant Mozart

Soprano Maria Jette.

Here are capsule reviews of three recent classical music events:

Master Chorale of South Florida‭
(Nov.‭ ‬20,‭ ‬Wold Center for the Performing Arts,‭ ‬Boca Raton‭)

The Creation is one of Franz Joseph Haydn‭’‬s finest works,‭ ‬and even in the‭ ‬abridged version the Master Chorale of South Florida presented Saturday night,‭ ‬the beauty and vigor‭ ‬of this oratorio‭ ‬were well in evidence.

Joined by the Miami Symphony Orchestra in a‭ ‬special‭ ‬resource-sharing arrangement,‭ ‬the‭ ‬105-member chorale sounded well-rehearsed and strong,‭ ‬in particular during the concluding‭ ‬Sing to God and the much-beloved‭ ‬The Heavens Are Telling.

But the bulk of the work goes to its soloists,‭ ‬and chorale director Joshua Habermann had three very able ones at his disposal.‭ ‬Soprano Maria Jette sang with power and clarity,‭ ‬and with a vibrato-less,‭ ‬pure sound that was ideal for Haydn‭’‬s aesthetic.‭ ‬Tenor Glenn Siebert‭ ‬was just as good,‭ ‬with his clean,‭ ‬light-limbed voice also suiting the music well.‭ ‬Bass Graham Fandrei delivered‭ ‬Rolling in Foaming Billows with verve,‭ ‬style and excellent diction,‭ ‬and the three voices blended sweetly at trio time.

Habermann‭’‬s tempos were relatively brisk,‭ ‬and the Miami Symphony was generally a fine accompanist,‭ ‬though there were some minor ragged edges here‭ ‬and there throughout‭ (‬imprecise entrances,‭ ‬slightly sour string intonation‭) ‬that surely could have been cleaned up with more rehearsal time.‭ ‬Overall,‭ ‬this was a confident performance,‭ ‬which gave the proceedings a high degree of engagement.‭

Also,‭ ‬it was an interpretation that was modest,‭ ‬careful and highly respectful of Haydn,‭ ‬and one that showed off the fertility of the composer‭’‬s imagination to fine effect.

Although it has become usual to omit the third section of this oratorio in many performances,‭ ‬it was a shame to lose it here,‭ ‬particularly because it would have been nice to hear more from Jette,‭ ‬Siebert and Fandrei‭ ‬and the chorus,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬which didn‭’‬t have too much to do Saturday night.

Given the omission of the third section and the dominance of the‭ ‬solo singing,‭ ‬it might have been a good idea to offer‭ ‬a couple choruses from‭ ‬The Seasons,‭ ‬Haydn‭’‬s other late oratorio,‭ ‬so that audiences could get a fuller idea of just what this large and durable singing group is all about.‭ ‬– G.‭ ‬Stepanich


Lise Lindstrom as Turandot and Frank Porretta as Calaf,‭
‬in Florida Grand Opera‭’‬s‭ ‬Turandot.
(Photo by Gaston de Cardenas)

Turandot/Florida Grand Opera
(Nov.‭ ‬13,‭ ‬Ziff Ballet Opera House,‭ ‬Miami‭)

Turandot‭ ‬last took the stage at Florida Grand Opera in‭ ‬2004,‭ ‬and this season Puccini‭’‬s last opera has‭ ‬come around again as a farewell to the production Bliss Hebert first designed for the company in‭ ‬1982‭ (‬it closes Dec.‭ ‬4‭ ‬at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale‭)‬.

It‭’‬s a good-looking show,‭ ‬and on opening night,‭ ‬its giant dragons,‭ ‬fanciful trees and elaborate,‭ ‬vivid costumes came off as an appropriate way to present the fairy-tale world of Gozzi‭’‬s tale,‭ ‬which after all has its roots in the legends of old Araby.‭ ‬But while the large house warmly applauded the set on its first appearance,‭ ‬it was the singing they came for,‭ ‬and in the two leading female roles,‭ ‬they were not disappointed.

American soprano Lise Lindstrom,‭ ‬who is currently making something of a specialty of the title role,‭ ‬having sung it at the Met and prepping it for La Scala,‭ ‬has‭ ‬a‭ ‬big,‭ ‬strong voice with a cutting quality that enabled her to slice‭ ‬through Puccini‭’‬s big orchestra‭ ‬and easily be heard.‭ ‬She embodied the force and malevolence of the ice princess well,‭ ‬and was able to communicate her softer potential,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬with a sensitive reading of‭ ‬In questa reggia.

Hometown favorite Elizabeth Caballero was a fine Liu,‭ ‬matching Lindstrom in sheer vocal power and seizing the stage during her‭ ‬Signore,‭ ‬ascolta.‭ ‬Her first entrances had a wide vibrato,‭ ‬but this tightened up as her voice warmed,‭ ‬and she received the warmest ovations at the final curtain.

Tenor Frank Porretta was a decent Calaf in one sense,‭ ‬with a good stage presence and careful management of his voice so that all of his high notes,‭ ‬especially the B in‭ ‬Nessun,‭ ‬dorma,‭ ‬were reliably there when he called on them.‭ ‬But his soft-edged voice was too underpowered overall,‭ ‬and in the love duet he was almost drowned out by Lindstrom and the orchestra.

Jonathan G.‭ ‬Michie was an excellent,‭ ‬sharp-voiced Ping,‭ ‬and Kevin Langan an empathetic Timur,‭ ‬with a‭ ‬dark quality to his bass voice that was persuasively sorrowful.‭ ‬Conductor Ramon Tebar led with drive and fire,‭ ‬and he had a first-rate orchestra to help him,‭ ‬a fine band that beautifully handled the wide variety and breadth of this fascinating score.‭ ‬– G.‭ ‬Stepanich


Pianist Tao Lin.

Lynn Philharmonia/Tao Lin‭
(Nov.‭ ‬5,‭ ‬Wold Center for the Performing Arts‭)‬

It‭’‬s often been noted that despite his early death at just‭ ‬35,‭ ‬and despite the astonishing pieces he wrote while still in his teens,‭ ‬Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart actually was a late bloomer.

But things started to come together for him as a great innovator in‭ ‬1786,‭ ‬the year of‭ ‬Le Nozze de Figaro and the Piano Concerto No.‭ ‬25‭ (‬in C,‭ ‬K.‭ ‬503‭)‬,‭ ‬which received a tender,‭ ‬lovely performance at the hands of pianist Tao Lin on Nov.‭ ‬5‭ ‬at a concert by the Lynn Philharmonia.

Lin,‭ ‬who teaches at the Boca Raton college,‭ ‬offered a reading of the Mozart that was technically polished and musically wise,‭ ‬offering up the almost childlike theme of the third movement,‭ ‬for example,‭ ‬with a kind of personality and wit that made it more memorable.‭ ‬Throughout,‭ ‬he and the Lynn,‭ ‬led by conductor Albert-George Schram,‭ ‬played the concerto with restraint and taste that allowed its bolder moments to shine simply by being performed so faithfully.

In the first movement,‭ ‬Lin played his own cadenza,‭ ‬an arrangement of two existing cadenzas by Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Josef Hofmann.‭ ‬The sheets of runs‭ ‬at the end of the cadenza came off as eminently logical rather than extravagant,‭ ‬and well in keeping with Lin‭’‬s elegant reading of this beautiful piece.‭

The other two works on the program,‭ ‬Glinka‭’‬s‭ ‬Ruslan and Ludmila overture and the Symphony No.‭ ‬2‭ (‬in D,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬43‭) ‬of Jean Sibelius,‭ ‬offered good demonstrations of the strengths and weaknesses of this commendable conservatory band.‭ ‬The group‭’‬s expanded string section‭ (‬which allows it to do the Sibelius and to open the season with the Mahler Fifth‭) ‬is impressive,‭ ‬with its two violin sections fully up to the challenge of playing the zippy main theme with admirable unity,‭ ‬and at a headlong tempo.‭ ‬

Things were just as good in the Sibelius,‭ ‬allowing for some early uncertainty about the pulse‭; ‬the violins in particular were able to bring off the naked emotionalism of the primary section of the first movement with exactly the right kind of big-orchestra Romantic bravado this music demands.

But the brass playing remains something of a problem for the Philharmonia,‭ ‬even if on balance there were more things right than there were wrong,‭ ‬and granting some slack for the difficulty of the music.‭ ‬The Sibelius has many exposed moments for the brass in which there is nothing underneath,‭ ‬and when things are in good alignment,‭ ‬this kind of scoring offers something akin to an aural painting in which swatches of color are more important than the composition.‭

In the Saturday night performance,‭ ‬there were simply too many flubbed notes and‭ ‬too much‭ ‬inexact intonation,‭ ‬which marred the overall effect of the music and almost made it appear as though there were two orchestras on stage:‭ ‬One featuring a high-flying string section,‭ ‬and one with a brass department still finding its wings.‭

It‭’‬s exciting that Schram has programmed these major orchestral works for the Lynn,‭ ‬in keeping with his notable readings of the Shostakovich‭ ‬Tenth,‭ ‬Prokofiev Fifth and‭ ‬the Schoenberg‭ ‬Five Pieces for Orchestra in recent years.‭ ‬It‭’‬s to be hoped that a big improvement in brass consistency will be evident when the orchestra tackles the Verdi‭ ‬Requiem this spring‭; ‬that would be another reason among many to‭ ‬eagerly anticipate that concert.‭ ‬– G.‭ ‬Stepanich

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