Concert review | ProMusica, LancasterChorale: Beethoven's 9th earns standing ovation
Two of Columbus’ finest classical music ensembles joined forces in one of the world’s best-loved musical works last night at the Southern Theatre.
Marking the concluding concert weekend of the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra’s 40th season, ProMusica Artistic Director David Danzmayr led the orchestra, LancasterChorale and four vocal soloists in the orchestra’s first-ever performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and in orchestrated versions of four of Schubert’s best-known songs, alongside LancasterChorale’s performance of 17th-century composer Gregorio Allegri’s "Miserere mei, Deus."
LancasterChorale Artistic Director Stephen Caracciolo’s unhurried pacing of Allegri’s "Miserere" achieved the right contemplative mood. Setting Psalm 51, a text full of heartbreaking confessions and supplications for forgiveness, and reserved in liturgical contexts for the darkest moments of the most solemn Christian feast day – Good Friday – Allegri’s "Miserere" is a work composed to encourage soul searching of the highest order.
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LancasterChorale performed Caracciolo’s tasteful nuances in tempi and dynamics faithfully and often with a glowing, burnished sound. This feat was somewhat remarkable, given that the Southern Theatre – with acoustics warm and wonderful for instrumental music – lacks the sumptuous resonance of the kind of stone-walled cathedral or church in which Allegri’s setting was originally composed to be sung.
Each of the four vocal soloists who would later sing in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony appeared as soloist in an orchestrated version of one of Schubert’s songs. Filling in for Kathrin Danzmayr, soprano Chelsea Hart Melcher performed "Gretchen am Spinnrade" ("Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel"), a veritable tour of the inner landscape of the title character – the lovesick Margarete, as she pines for Faust.
Melcher delivered a clear and straightforward interpretation of the text. Though lovely and played sensitively by the orchestra, Franz Liszt’s orchestration of Schubert’s original piano accompaniment turned one of Schubert’s most intimate dramas into an outward occasion.
Max Reger’s hushed orchestration of Schubert’s "Nacht und Träume" ("Night and Dreams") posed no such interpretative issues. Alto Julie Miller, filling in for Abigail Nims, faltered slightly in her opening phrase, but her voice opened up in a lovely way in each of Schubert’s intensely sustained phrases through the rest of the song.
Tenor Lawrence Wiliford embodied the swirling outward drama of Schubert’s "Ganymed" in intelligent nuances in tempo and fresh vocal characterization.
Aaron Wardell’s glorious bass-tinged baritone was, if anything, too heroic-sounding for Schubert’s inwardly-yearning "Ständchen" ("Serenade"), D. 957d. here and in "Ganymed" the orchestra’s performances of Benjamin Gordon’s orchestrations were tastefully subdued.
Both ProMusica and LancasterChorale operated last night with somewhat expanded performing forces in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
The orchestra nailed the symphony’s famous ex nihil opening but was less convincing in what might have been, in the first two phrases, gradual crescendos leading to truly breathtaking explosions of sound. Some striking dynamic contrasts punctuated the first movement, though there might have been a clearer sense of pacing through the movement’s large-scale architecture.
In the second movement, Molto vivace, where Beethoven’s Scherzo danced, ProMusica quickstepped on the head of a pin, and where Beethoven’s Scherzo railed against the world, ProMusica sounded its own barbaric yawps.
The movement’s trio section was the very voice of the Beethoven whose big and broken heart could still make a silk melody out of a sow’s tune. Lovely horn solos and lively interplay among the winds gave the trio the rustic feel of figures frolicking on fine toile.
Danzmayr paced the orchestra superbly, arc after long-breathed arc, in the third movement, Adagio molto e cantabile.
What Richard Wagner termed the "Schrekensfanfare" – the “fanfare of horror” – at the beginning of Beethoven’s finale could have been stronger and more frightening. It and the following passages of instrumental recitative in the cellos and basses, though played well, lacked the heft of sound that Beethoven’s writing seems to beg for.
The cellos and basses had just the right feel and contours, however, in their first statement of the famous “Ode to Joy” theme. Danzmayr led the orchestra in a beautifully paced crescendo through the theme’s variations in orchestration. Baritone Aaron Wardell’s heroic sound was perfect for his solo entrance at “O Freunde, nicht diese Töne” (“O, friends, not these sounds”). At each of its moments, the quartet of soloists came through admirably in each of its notoriously thorny passages. Tenor Lawrence Wiliford was spirited at a tempo near the fast end of the spectrum.
Throughout the famous “Ode to Joy” finale, LancasterChorale sang with impressive nuance of sound and with impressively clear and sonorous diction of Schiller’s German text.
The symphony closed in a frenzy, bringing forth immediate shouts of approval from the audience, which rose to its feet as though lifted by an updraft of brotherly love.
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra and LancasterChorale will present Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and other works in a final concert Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Southern Theatre, 21 E. Main St. Tickets run from $15 to $55. For more information and to order tickets, visit www.promusicacolumbus.org or www.ticketmaster.com.