Music review: Grant Gershon with Los Angeles Master Chorale at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Yet at the Los Angeles Master Chorale, “All-Night Vigil” is solidly on the playlist. Grant Gershon first programmed the piece in November 2006, and to open his 10th anniversary season as music director of the Master Chorale Sunday night, he offered it again – and got a full house at Walt Disney Concert Hall for his trouble.
Yes, full houses are increasingly becoming the norm for Gershon and the Master Chorale during his term here. But it’s one thing for the popular Mozart Requiem – which opened the 2009-10 season – to fill the house, and another for this still-little-known artifact of Rachmaninoff’s fascination with the Russian Orthodox service to do the same. Gershon has built an audience that trusts him, and that trust was repaid with an immaculately prepared and sung performance of an out-of-the-ordinary piece.
Most would not be able to guess the composer of this music from a blindfold test, for Rachmaninoff was drawing upon centuries-old forms of chant, while inventing sections of his own in this manner. Yet the composer of the voluptuous piano concertos manages to color some of this music with a sensuousness that undercuts the austere atmosphere a bit. There is even a passage in “The Six Psalms” in which the choral harmonies spread out into a sustained chord that sounds lusciously modern.
While the Master Chorale’s bright, buoyant, American sound in Disney Hall could not have been mistaken for that of an edgier, bass-rich Slavic choir, Gershon brought other valuable insights to the table. He emphasized dynamic contrasts while always maintaining a continuous flowing line. With slightly clipped phrasings, he made the refrains in “Blessed Art Thou, O Lord” sound like Russian folk songs – an effect I’ve never encountered in this work.
As an encore, Gershon led another ecclesiastical Rachmaninoff rarity, the 18th section of “Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.”
– Richard S. Ginell
Photos: Season opening concert by Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Credit: Lee Salem Photography