Saturday, January 12, 2008

CSO review

Ok, someone I know sings in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, and this review is like the critic was in love or something. The orchestra gets less loving treatment (except the new EH player, I'm sure Felix would be proud)...

Orchestra Chorus give Haydn, Ives pieces texture and sizzle
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Donald Rosenberg
Plain Dealer Music Critic

All hail the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus. Week after week, members of the volunteer organization gather from points across the region to prepare for performances with the grand resident of Severance Hall.

The chorus played a major role in the orchestra's first subscription concert of the year Thursday, participating in works by Ives and Haydn under music director Franz Welser-MÖst. The program's second half began with the presentation of the orchestra's 12th Distinguished Service Award to Gerald Hughes, a member of the chorus' bass section for 50 years, since the days of Robert Shaw.

Hughes made a gracious speech before returning to the ranks for Haydn's Mass in D minor, which is subtitled "Lord Nelson" to honor the British admiral who was prominent while the composer was writing the piece. The Mass is another supremely inventive and poignant example of Haydn's genius, abounding in disarming melodic, harmonic and textural turns.

Much of the material gives the chorus a healthy workout. Haydn employs the accumulation of voices to animate and shade the various sections of the Mass. From majestic declarations to whispered utterances, the chorus is the principal communicator of spiritual fervor, with vocal soloists providing occasional input.

The chorus, prepared by Robert Porco, did a fresh job, whatever Haydn has requested. The Latin text came across clearly, and the interweaving and balancing of voices was sure. In the sunny moments, the chorus sounded like the happiest ensemble in town.

The orchestra and Welser-MÖst did their utmost to maintain Classical decorum, as is this ensemble's wont. They were joined by a fine quartet of soloists: soprano Twyla Robinson, mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor, tenor Thomas Cooley and -- most imposing of all -- bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams.

Worlds away from Haydn is Ives' Psalm 135, an anthem-processional the iconoclastic American composer wrote in his late 20s. The score has touches of the innovative spirit that made Ives so distinctive, notably in terms of harmony and instrumentation (trumpet, trombone, timpani, drums, organ). But it mostly adheres to tradition, and the chorus sounded firm in its duties.

Between Ives and Haydn came one of the most popular works in the repertoire, Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World"). Welser-MÖst and the orchestra will play the piece during their second residency this month at the newly dubbed Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County (formerly Carnival Center for the Performing Arts).

By the time they arrive in Miami , the score could become a coherent statement. Aside from Robert Walter's sensitive English horn solo in the slow movement and other moments of Cleveland-style glory, Thursday's performance was brusque and ill-defined, with too little consideration for Dvorak's touching lyricism, bucolic charm and robust splendor.

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