By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Pasadena Master Chorale, Los Angeles Daiku, L.A. Daiku Orchestra; Jeffrey Bernstein, conductor
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Saturday, January 7, 2012 • San Gabriel Mission Playhouse
Viennese ring in the New Year with Strauss waltzes. Revelers around the world sing Auld Lang Syne, but in Japan they celebrate the turning of the calendar with a most un-Japanese piece of music, as hundreds of organizations perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
Last night, Jeffrey Bernstein began what he hopes will be an annual tradition by joining two groups for which he’s the artistic director, Los Angeles Daiku and the Pasadena Master Chorale, in what turned out to be a quite-credible performance of Beethoven’s final symphony at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse as the first week of the new year drew to a close.
Los Angeles Daiku ("The Japanese word 'daiku' is translated literally as 'the great nine' and often refers to Beethoven’s 9th," says Bernstein) was formed in 2009 specifically to rehearse Beethoven’s 9th; 47 singers from that group were on stage last night along with 49 singers of the PMC, 51 instrumentalists (most of whom are familiar as members of ensembles such as the Pasadena Symphony and Los Angeles Opera Orchestra) and four soloists.
Bernstein set brisk tempos throughout the performance and did a nice job of drawing nuanced playing out of his orchestra. What the performance lacked was Beethoven’s Olympian fury, most noticeably in the opening of the final movement. However, Bernstein recovered nicely from a ragged beginning of that movement to shape the main theme lovingly and finished the chorale finale with a flourish.
The 96 singers sang with a nice blend and attention to musical line, although they hampered by the Playhouse stage’s poor acoustics, which made the singers sound far less powerful than they probably were. Baritone Cedric Berry got the famed Ode to Joy choral section off to a somewhat shaky start and tenor Arthur Rishi was nearly inaudible. Soprano Krystle Casey and mezzo-soprano Jessica Marney filled out the quartet solidly.
• Bernstein elected to begin the proceedings with a few comments and then had an actor read Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament, which was written to his brothers in 1802 as the scope of Beethoven’s deafness was becoming apparent to the composer. Unfortunately, Bernstein failed to explain why this letter was important to the context of this particular performance.
• The printed program contained the texts for the Ode to Joy section but the lights were dimmed to the point where they were unreadable.
• The booklet also contained no information about L.A. Daiku and its purpose or the Pasadena Master Chorale, although there was a full-page bio of the conductor, short bios of the soloists, and names of the choristers and instrumentalists.
(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.