Saturday, May 28, 2016

concert review: Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale

Every once in a while, Symphony Silicon Valley summons up its Chorale to sing along with it. And, once a year, the Chorale gets to play the lead and have the orchestra accompany it instead for a change. Friday was that night, over at Santa Clara Mission, an almost ornate enough building, in its Spanish colonial style, to match the big choral structures from the long 18th century that filled it last night.

We had works from a wide variety of distinctive great composers: one of Purcell's Birthday Odes, one of Handel's Chandos Anthems - both large, multi-movement works - a couple varied Mozart church pieces from his Salzburg period, a Haydn motet, and Schubert's Mass in G, my secret favorite early masterwork of his. The retro-Baroque Credo movement has a strange, stealthy beauty that rivets me, and it covers an enormous amount of text in very little time.

The chorus was in fine shape, full-bodied and fully in control of the counterpoint. There was a canonic series of entrances in the Purcell that was just spine-tingling. Only in some of the more irregular jagged parts of the Haydn could they have used more stiffening.

There were guest soloists in most of the music too. Soprano Sandra Raquel Bengochea was the most operatic and the most expressively free. Matthew Knickman is a deep enough baritone to cover the depths of Purcell's bass parts. Blake Morgan has a pure tenor voice with carefully precise placement of every pitch and every phoneme. Cortez Mitchell is more grounded than many countertenors, but his voice didn't carry well in the choral pieces. To compensate for that, he got a solo showpiece in the form of Handel's Largo (the aria Ombra ma fu from Serse) which was just stunning.

Only complaints were the backwards-collated page in the unstapled program book - it took 3 of us several minutes to figure out how it was supposed to go - and that the program notes should have been run past somebody with a better command of English before publication. One sentence on Schubert, "Having only lived for 31 years, the sheer volume of musical output is staggering," a sentence with no detectable subject, was a striking but representative example.

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