Orchestra celebrates its 10th with Beethoven’s Ninth
By Keith Powers / Contributing writer
Posted Mar 26, 2018 at 1:01 PM
Updated Mar 26, 2018 at 1:01 PM
The Ninth deserves its reputation for greatness, and presents challenges to any musical ensemble.
FALMOUTH – Every performance of Beethoven’s Ninth becomes a special event.
There are the historic ones, like Leonard Bernstein leading an international orchestra in East Berlin’s Schauspielhaus, to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Richard Wagner was famous for conducting the Ninth, and did so many times. So did Georg Solti. Closer to home, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has for years concluded its Tanglewood season with the great symphony.
Even an amateur chamber orchestra – joined by additional musicians, and a full-throated chorus with four excellent soloists – can turn the Ninth into a memorable occasion. And so it was with the Falmouth Chamber Players Orchestra this Sunday in the Simon Center for the Arts at Falmouth Academy, with music director John Yankee leading the ensemble in a celebration of its own 10th anniversary.
The Ninth deserves its reputation for greatness, and presents challenges to any musical ensemble. To ignore that would be to ignore the vast expressive possibilities in Beethoven’s score. But though not all of those possibilities would be realized in this performance, there is still an emotional heft in the work that comes across even in the attempt – especially in an honest, well-rehearsed, integrated and spirited performance like this one.
With the piece best known for its uplifting vocal part in the concluding movement – the first-ever use of voice in a symphony – one almost forgets that the orchestra has played for good 45 minutes even before the singers take the stage.
The eerie opening notes emerge like the sound of an orchestra tuning up, assembling itself into coherence from chaos. Two themes characterize the first movement – the same theme, but in minor and major – along with its lengthy coda, a climactic build-up that lasts far longer than normal.
Overall, the balance of the sound was too even, leaving the articulation of phrases blurred. Not enough of the details stood out. Generally speaking, this symphony converses: strings play a figure, and winds hover over it. The timpani (a prodigious part, well played by Tim Maxwell) lays some groundwork, and horns or strings accent it. Given a generally even sound among sections, lots of this articulation was lost.
But there was exemplary playing: The winds, especially oboe (Melanie Hayn, Tegan Sutherland), principal flute (Lorrie Hassan) and horn (Elizabeth Jones), brought to life many difficult, exposed phrases.
The second-movement scherzo presented yet more challenges, and the playing here was notably crisper, especially in the strings. The slow movement –another long, difficult section, featuring many tempo changes and modulations – could have used a shot of adrenaline here and there.
But the finale woke everyone up. It began with the estimable baritone David Kravitz, whose call for joy – “Freude, freude” – epitomized the optimistic tone of Beethoven’s libretto with his forceful, clarion tones.
Kravitz seemed to welcome everyone – players and audience – into the celebration, along with the chorus and his fellow soloists: Jason McStoots (tenor), Deborah Selig (soprano) and Stephanie Kacoyanis (alto).
The Falmouth Chorale – substantially augmented by singers from many organizations – numbered almost 90 strong, and sang with clarity and gusto. Yankee actually seemed to get crisper playing from his orchestra in the finale, when he had chorus and soloists to manage as well. The coda charges into a bright, positive future – nearly 200 years after its premiere.
The next Falmouth Chamber Players Orchestra programs will be family concerts featuring Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals” and Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” on May 19 in Sandwich and May 20 in Falmouth. For tickets and information, visit www.falmouthchamberplayers.org.
Passionate Voices of the Upper Cape
Falmouth Chorale impressive in ambitious program
By Keith Powers / Contributing writer
Posted Mar 12, 2018 at 4:42 PM
Updated Mar 12, 2018 at 4:42 PM
Fauré’s elegant “Requiem” filled the second half of this program and was certainly the centerpiece. But Daniel Pinkham’s inventive “Wedding Cantata” and Mendelssohn’s bracing “As the Hart Longs” – featuring soprano Joan Kirchner – had their moments.
FALMOUTH – In the first of two ambitious presentations directed by conductor John Yankee, an augmented Falmouth Chorale sang an impressive program of Pinkham, Mendelssohn and Fauré Sunday afternoon at Falmouth Academy’s Simon Center for the Arts. Fauré’s elegant “Requiem” filled the second half of this program and was certainly the centerpiece. But Daniel Pinkham’s inventive “Wedding Cantata” and Mendelssohn’s bracing “As the Hart Longs” – featuring soprano Joan Kirchner – had their moments.
The chorale also sings Beethoven’s Ninth with Yankee’s Falmouth Chamber Players Orchestra in two weeks, making this performance all the more impressive, given the sheer volume of music.
Yankee began with his core group of singers – 15 strong – to sing Pinkham’s “Wedding Cantata.” They were accompanied in this performance by a talented freelance orchestra.
Pinkham (1923–2006) was a Boston fixture during his long, productive life, teaching musicology at New England Conservatory and directing performances at King’s Chapel. His “Wedding Cantata” sets texts from the Song of Songs.
The settings are imaginative and accessible. In just 10 minutes or so, Pinkham runs a gamut of celebratory ideas, exhorting the newlyweds to embrace nature, change and themselves. The small cadre of singers blended appropriately with the instruments.
Mendelssohn’s cantata uses texts from the Book of Psalms, largely exploring the anxiety caused from the longing for God. Yankee directed a much larger chorale – about 65 singers – which changed the dynamic of the performance considerably.
Entertainment & Life Falmouth Chorale impressive in ambitious program The refurbished Simon Center may not look that much different from the earlier version, but the presence of an acoustic shell has deepened the projection power from the stage area. With such a large number of singers, that vocal power was evident.
Still, it was the single voice of the soprano, working with various sections of the chorus, that stood out.
Kirchner sings with light, crystal-clear lyricism, at ease in all areas of her range. Her vibrato is true and delicate, and although her range is not super high, she has many pleasing darker colors in her tone.
An aria, “For my soul thirsteth for God,” with a sweet oboe (Melanie Hayn) accompaniment, stood out. As did the centerpiece of the cantata, a quintet that opposes Kirchner with four-part writing for the men’s voices.
Fauré’s “Requiem” begins with a single D minor chord, setting a firm but respectful mood that hardly ever wavers. The work almost never raises the volume above mezzo-forte, celebrating life after death in austere, measured, but affirming tones.
Baritone Philip Lima joined Kirchner, the chorale and the orchestra for this performance. Lima also sings with inherent lyricism, in a lustrous voice, still with considerable power (there was one particularly impressive fermata, held firmly, at the “Offertory”).
The orchestra has plenty of opportunity to shine in this work. Stephanie Weaver, re-creating the organ part on electronic keyboard, played authoritatively. The low strings introduced the “Offertory” with a beautiful unison phrase, and the high strings, accompanying Kirchner in the “Pie Jesu” section with a delicate, muted opening, also played confidently.
There were moments when the chorale, singing full throttle, overpowered the orchestra. But this work, long a favorite with choruses because of its accessible beauties, was on the whole performed with precision and attention.
The Falmouth Chorale sings Beethoven’s Ninth with the Falmouth Chamber Players Orchestra at the Simon Center on March 24 and 24. The next Falmouth Chorale performance, “Make ’Em Laugh,” will be May 5 and 6 at John Wesley United Methodist Church in Falmouth. For tickets and information visit www.falmouthchorale.org or call 774-392-2383.