Brett Karlin made an impressive debut last fall as artistic director and conductor of the Master Chorale of South Florida. The choir's “Classical Prodigies” program Friday night at First Presbyterian Church in Pompano Beach confirmed that he is not a onetime wonder.
Drawing finely nuanced and expressive performances, Karlin is clearly bringing order and high artistic standards to an ensemble that seemed to have lost its way amid a revolving door of conductors. The South Florida debut of the gifted young soprano Lauren Snouffer and rarely performed scores by Mendelssohn and Schubert highlighted an evening of festive and contemplative music-making.
Three a cappella motets by Mendelssohn contrast the composer's typical lyricism with fervent spirituality. The opening full-voiced proclamation of Jauchzet dem Hernn (Shout to the Lord from Psalm 100) was followed by softer contrasts, Karlin maintaining fine balance and variegated dynamics. There was a sense of tense agitation in the plea for mercy of Zum Abendsegen and Ruhetal (Valley of Rest), the greatly improved male voices particularly strong and impressive.
The Mass No. 2 in G Major is the work of the eighteen-year-old Franz Schubert and the score is a true gem. Remarkably compact, the twenty-five minute score is an unusually restrained and reflective setting of the traditional Latin text and the opening Kyrie spotlights one of Schubert's most beautiful melodic inspirations.
Backed by the incisive strings of the Symphonia, Boca Raton, Karlin finely blended the overlapping female and male vocal lines, bringing shapely flow and restraint to the abundant melodic outbursts. In the Credo, the cry of pain describing Jesus' crucifixion was powerful, the calm serenity of the resurrection music that follows potently evoked. Restless string interjections underpinned the lovely choral prayer of the Agnus Dei.
Balancing drama and reverence, Karlin led an intense, richly detailed performance. Snouffer's bright soprano and pointed text-painting contrasted with Dennis Ryan's mellow bass and Brandon Mowry's light tenor.
The Schubert mass was surrounded by music of Mozart. A straightforward, stylish performance of Eine kleine Nachtmusik was marked by clean string articulation and spare vibrato. The often obscured viola figurations in the concluding Allegro were given needed prominence, the finale bursting with fiery energy. With the players seated in front of the chorus on level with the audience, instrumental sound was surprisingly clear in the blowsy acoustic of First Presbyterian Church in Pompano Beach, the venue of theFriday performance.
Snouffer's lower register has a mezzo-like richness yet she spun coloratura roulades with pinpoint accuracy in the Exultate Jubilate. Her long-breathed phrasing of “Tu virginum corona” was capped by a crisp “Alleluia,” the high C rendered with brilliance.
The sublime Ave verum corpus formed a soaring coda to the evening, Karlin integrating choral and instrumental sonorities with clarity and impact. This well-chosen program was a vivid demonstration of Karlin's exceptional gifts as a choral director.
The 2014-2015 season of the Master Chorale will feature Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, a Baroque program and a concert of choral works featured in movies and television.