By Robert D. Thomas
Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Master
Chorale; Grant Gershon, conductor
Haydn: “The Creation”
Sunday, April 10, 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall
In his 10 years as Los Angeles Master Chorale music
director, Grant Gershon and his ensemble have built a worldwide reputation for championing
contemporary music in large measure by performing 13 world premieres and a
number of American and West Coast first hearings. However, two or three times a
season, the Chorale brings back one of choral music’s pinnacles to the great
delight of its audiences.
Last night at Walt Disney Concert Hall that “giant” was
Haydn’s penultimate oratorio, The
Creation (or, since it was sung in German, Die Schpfung) and the sold-out sign was posted on the LAMC Web
site many hours before the downbeat. The full house came with high expectations
and weren’t disappointed as Gershon led 115 members of his Chorale, full orchestra
and three soloists in a superlative performance.
Haydn was 67 years old when he completed this 2-1/4 hour
telling of the Creation story, based on the first two books of Genesis and portions
of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. That
was old age by 18th-century standards (by comparison, Handel was 10
years younger when he wrote Messiah,
the only oratorio better known than The Creation).
Nonetheless, Haydn was clearly at the peak of his creative
powers. The Creation was the work of
a master tone painter — one has only to listen to depictions of leviathans
spouting, flexible tigers or slithering worms to truly appreciate how just how
masterful Haydn was in this regard. That colorful writing begins with Haydn’s
opening depiction of the chaos before the world was created and continues
throughout the Biblical stories and Milton’s epoch.
Gershon and his forces fully met Haydn’s numerous
challenges, beginning with those opening moments of unsettled orchestral music
that leads to the angel Raphael quietly intoning the opening words of Genesis: “In
the beginning …” and concluding with the chorus exploding from mysterious,
hushed intonation to a glorious, full-throated C major chord that announces “Let
there be light!”
That sequence proved to be a microcosm of what would evolve
over the next two-plus hours. The Chorale was breathtaking in its dynamic
control throughout the evening, sang with its customary clean diction and
precise articulation, and produced the sort of exemplary blend to which we’ve
become accustomed during the past decade.
The three soloists — soprano Elissa Johnston, tenor Hak Soo
Kim, and baritone Sanford Sylvan — matched the choral forces exquisitely.
Johnston sailed through her ornate tessitura lines with seemingly effortless
elegance and precision; although she is Gershon’s wife, it’s clear that she was
chosen solely for her prodigious musical talents. Sylvan displayed remarkable
range (his low notes were as clean as his upper registers), and Kim’s clarion
tenor gleamed throughout the evening. All sang with notable sensitivity to the
Gershon accompanied his soloists sensitively and whipped the
Chorale through the major climaxes with breathtaking speed (Awake the Harp and the conclusion of The Heavens are Telling were particularly noteworthy in this
regard). It was the work of one master recreating another’s genius.
Kudos to whoever handled the projected translations;
there’s an art to illuminating the translations at precisely the right second
and last night was a prime example of how to perform that delicate task
The Master Chorale’s 22nd High School Choral
Festival takes place Friday (INFO). Tickets are free but need to be ordered
ahead of time.
The season’s final LAMC concert takes place May 22 as the
Chorale performs extracts from Duke Ellington’s three Sacred Concerts. INFO. Before that, the Chorale will join with the
Los Angeles Philharmonic May 12-15 in performances of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, led by Gustavo
Dudamel as part of the Phil’s five-week-long “Brahms Unbound” festival. INFO
Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.