Energy and excitement enlivened Masterworks Chorale’s performances of Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs and Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem at Harvard’s Sanders Theater on Friday. The chorus shared the stage with the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra, including conductor Steven Karidoyanes, who led the performance. Two emerging artists from within the American opera scene, baritone Andrew Garland and soprano Ruth Hartt, also participated.
In his pre-concert remarks, Karidoyanes described Vaughan Williams’s setting of 17th-century mystic George Herbert’s religious mystical poetry as “sonic sorbet”; this was an interesting characterization, though appropriate for the performance itself, which was characterized by the delights of energetic pacing and delivery, including a relentless plunge through the closing selection (“Easter”). Although this approach was effective in matching the general feeling of each selection with the high energy level of the closing selection, I feel the poetry of the first four selections would have been better served by a more reflective approach, allowing more time for harmonies to be savored, and for the complex, mystical poetry to be pondered. This is not to say that this more thoughtful approach was not to be found later, particularly in the group’s rendition of the next-to-last selection, “The Call.” Garland’s performance in this work was very appealing, though he did not seem to be fully in sync with Karidoyanes’s direction until the third selection, “Love Bade Me Welcome.” In both works, the chorus and orchestra skillfully navigated the works’ numerous technical challenges, and effectively expressed every gesture from the podium.
Like the Vaughn Williams, the Brahms was characterized by a forward-moving, energetic approach, which was effective in some cases, though at others unsatisfying in its seeming disconnect from the character of the text. Again, this was not without exception: Karidoyanes engineered a very effective transition from the ponderous opening of the second selection, “And all flesh is as the grass,” to the lighter triple section on a correspondingly lighter text, “So let us be patient, dear friends,” and brought the end of the fourth selection, “How agreeable are your dwellings” to a smooth, gentle close. Both soloists were delightful in this work, as Hartt’s resonant timbre gave a pleasing feel to the fifth selection, the “mother’s song,” and Garland’s powerful, dramatic pronouncements effectively heralded the opening of the third movement, “Lord, teach me that my life must have an end.” The closing of the work was marked by high energy and a tempo on the faster side, creating a feeling closer to a symphonic finale than a closing benediction. The audience gave a rousing ovation and return calls for the ensemble, the soloists, and the director.