The Lexington Singers performed the Lord Nelson Mass by Franz Joseph Haydn, shown in a portrait by Ludwig Guttenbrunn, Sunday afternoon at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Photo from Wikipedia/public domain.
There’s this thing that happens when Lexington Singers conductor Jefferson Johnson closes his left thumb and finger together to end a phrase.
The sound of that final consonant pops off the walls of the Singletary Center for the Arts like a firework that has a second of brilliant light and just as quickly vanishes. It’s thrilling, and it can only happen with an ensemble in perfect unity -- more than 100 pairs of eyes watching one hand.
This, alone, does not make a complete choir. But it is indicative of what a sharp ensemble Johnson was directing Sunday afternoon in a performance of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass.
Three weeks ago I got to hear Haydn’s Creation by the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, under Sir Colin Davis’ baton. The Lexington Singers' performance was in the same league as the London choir, and that Creation was outstanding.
The Singers' sensitivity to the text and music of Papa Haydn’s ninth mass was as strong as its precision, making for a highly textured performance. There were some nice directoral touches too, such as Johnson (photo, right) bringing the singers to their feet mid-phrase in one section, creating an exceedingly natural crescendo.
Aiding the presentation was a very like-minded soloist in Angelique Clay. She was one of the University of Kentucky’s first big opera stars who returned this semester to join the UK voice faculty. The local arts community has been keeping her busy. She just served as the soprano soloist on the Lexington Community Orchestra’s performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, last Sunday.
This Sunday, she was in league with the singers, delivering a performance both thrilling and sensitive. Her opening solos provided an opportunity for dazzling, high ornamentation. But then the Benedictus gave her the forum for a master class in measured, precise singing.
Some of Clay's (Shown, right, in a photo by Rachel E. Cecil from the 2004 Governor's School for the Arts) most revealing moments came between solos, when she was seated with her eyes closed, her body slightly swaying to the music. It was like an actor engaged in and reacting to the drama, even when she has no lines.
Clay was more than a soloist, she was part of creating a complete piece of music.
In somewhat puzzling scheduling, the Nelson was the first part of Sunday's concert, followed by selections from the Singers' children’s choirs and a few more numbers from the Singers. Those a cappella selections, Anton Bruckner’s Ave Maria and a Moses Hogan arrangement of Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho, gave the Singers a more concentrated forum to show off what a sharp ensemle it had become in 10 years under Johnson’s baton. But they were appetizers. It felt like the entree had been served first, and the entree left us wanting more of this meaty choral fare.
~ Before we move on to the Lexington Philharmonic's next conductor canditate, Alexander Platt, this week, here's a piece to consider by Anthony Tommasini about the dearth of female conductors in American orchestras. The Philharmonic only offered one woman in its first season of candidates: last month's Kayoko Dan. It'll be interesting to see who we get in the field for the 2008-09 season.
~ On the Flyover blog, John Stoehr offers an interesting program by the Charleston Symphony that is apparently attracting younger patrons by programming pieces by newer composers.
~ And, just in case you were wondering what musicians in the Metropolitan Opera's pit orchestra do during long waits between their parts, here's some information.