The Masterworks Chorale and its Music Director Steven Karidoyanes performed a wonderful concert at Sanders Theater on March 15 that also offered a nostalgic reminder of what home entertainment used to be. Unlike today, when one might invite friends over to listen to music, put on a DVD or watch a show on 10-foot speakers or a 60-inch plasma TV, residents of Vienna, London or Boston in 1850 or even 1920 would get together after work – and actually make their own entertainment by playing music. Every major composer contributed works to this genre (especially since they knew people would buy them), and Karidoyanes put together a fascinating program of three prime examples, all performed brilliantly by the Chorale and its superb orchestra.
The first half consisted of selections from Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes (1870), in the version for chorus and orchestra, and Mendelssohn’s Six Songs to be Sung in the Open Air, op. 59, sung a capella. The second half was devoted to Mendelssohn’s youthful operatic gem, Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde, op. 89, and it was the high point of the afternoon. The Chorale sang with a rich sound and in just the right style, and the orchestra was first-class under Karidoyanes’ direction. The 20-year-old Mendelssohn composed this work as a silver wedding anniversary present for his parents, and it was home music-making at the highest level. Mendelssohn constructed a small theater at the family house at Leipzigerstrasse No. 3 in Berlin, and invited a “few” friends – more than 100 of them, in fact – to hear the premiere on December 26, 1829. It was also a family affair: Mendelssohn’s brother Paul played cello in the orchestra, and his sisters Fanny and Rebecka sang two of the roles.
The solo singers for Sunday’s performance were professionals, of course, and they were uniformly excellent. Using the English version Son and Stranger put together by Mendelssohn’s London friend and colleague Henry Chorley, bass Bryan McNeil sang with impeccable diction and a fine sense of comic timing that made every word of this delightful story clear and funny. The rich mezzo-soprano of Beth MacLeod portrayed the matronly wife of Schultz and the mother of the returning son Hermann, who was sung by the tenor Kevin Hayden with a bright and young sound. Teresa Wakim’s soprano created the perfect virginal ingénue for Hermann’s future bride Lisbeth, and bass-baritone Sumner Thompson performed the slightly sleazy traveling salesman Kauz in a style that would have worked well in any sitcom. All turns out well at the end of this story, and so did this memorable performance by the Masterworks Chorale.