Now and then, you may hear a Bruckner symphony at Walt Disney Concert Hall, but did any of Bruckner’s big choral works ever receive a performance there? The answer is: Not until Sunday night, when Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Master Chorale took on Bruckner’s somewhat peculiar Mass No. 2 in E minor.
And what kind of a sensibility would program a Bruckner mass alongside a piece by Stravinsky? An iconoclastic one, yes, but also a practical one, since both the Bruckner mass and to a large extent Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” are powered and colored by wind and brass ensembles.
While Bruckner’s First and Third Masses bear the distinct signatures of the symphonies all over the place, you have to listen hard to find streaks of his sound in the Second Mass, with its backing by a small wind band and throwbacks to the choral styles of the Renaissance.
The piece sounds as if it was tailored to the acoustics of a cathedral; some of the wind timbres even seem to imitate certain stops on a pipe organ. A cathedral Disney Hall is not, yet Gershon’s fast tempos were appropriate for this less-reverberant space, as was the Master Chorale’s fresh, bright, plush, not-at-all-ascetic singing.
The Master Chorale is no stranger to “Symphony of Psalms” -– this was the piece the chorale memorably sang at Esa-Pekka Salonen’s farewell concert here in 2009 -– and Gershon carried out another inventive programming scheme by prefacing Stravinsky with a brief, luminous a cappella Bruckner motet, also set to a psalm text, “Os justi.”
Yet this performance (of the Stravinsky) could not quite generate the cool yet paradoxically emotional fervor of the sequence of magically heartfelt, dense chords near the close of Part 3. Gershon tried, slowing the tempo down as marked to let the passage breathe, but it didn’t work.
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-– Richard S. Ginell
2010 photo of Grant Gershon and the Master Chorale. Credit: Lee Salem Photography