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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Concert Review: A Mighty Shout of Joy

Trinity Church ends its two-month Revolutionaries festival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The logo of this year's Revolutionaries festival at Trinity Church.
© 2016 Trinity Church of Wall Street.
Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 should not be taken, or performed lightly. This unwieldly but popular symphony is an occasion piece, performed at the opening or close of a major festival or sung to commemorate an historic event. The performance Friday night at Trinity Church met both qualifications, as five ensembles pooled their resources to perform the Ninth alongside Alberto Ginastera's equally imposing setting of Psalm 150.

Here, the event was the end of Revolutionaries: Beethoven and Ginastera a two month festival at the historic Wall Street church commemorating the 100th anniversary of Ginastera's birth and juxtaposing his ground-breaking music with more familiar pieces by Beethoven. With the church packed and the late composer's daughter present in a central pew, the sense of occasion was palpable as music director Julian Wachner mounted the temporary podium well in front of the massed forces.

Ginastera's setting of Psalm 150 ("Let All Things Praise the Lord") is a massive choral arrangement on a scale that would make Gustav Mahler proud. Like that earlier composer's Eighth Symphony, it opens with a mighty shout of sound, with the Downtown Voices and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street singing first in unison and then in more complicated polyphony and fugue. The massive orchestra (members of NOVUS NY and the Norwegian group 1B1) thundered, supporting the singers in a pillar of strength.

The work is sung in French, and although the words did not always come clearly to the ear its intent in singing the praises of the Almighty were lucid enough. The most impressive moment came in the final sections of the mass as the scarlet-gowned members of the Trinity Youth Chorus lined up on both of the outer aisles of the church and sang, giving this listener the effect of natural quadrophonic sound and the feeling of being totally immersed in this impressive work.

Following the structure of the aforementioned Mahler symphony, Mr. Wachner followed the Ginastera with Beethoven's Ninth, its mysterious opening chords seeming to float in the air as the audience waited for the first fortissimo to drop. What followed was a taut and relatively lean performance, as Mr. Wachner made the unfamiliar ensembles play together in taut accord.

The second movement benefited from the bright acoustic of Trinity, an ecclesiastical space that was somehow blessed with good sound design. Here, the propulsive scherzo was driven forward by a triple stroke on the timpani and Mr. Wachner was efficient in picking up the maddening repeats that haunt this movement. The slow movement was eloquent, benefitting from lush string playing from the 1B1 musicians and poetic winds from NOVUS NY.

And then it was time for the mighty finale, with the setting of Schiller's Ode to Joy led off by four unusually strong vocal soloists. The baritone was firm and resonant, aware of the import of the words he was singing but not too florid as he sang them. Mezzo-soprano, tenor and soprano joined the great outcry, with the chorussimetimes in support and other times in the lead. The most harrowing moment was the mighty double fugue, with the high voices seeking a "Father beyond the stars" in a rising tide of sound that overwhelmed and engulfed.

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