There were questions going into the latest Long Beach Symphony Classics concert at the Terrace Theater. What would the attendance be like for an all-Mozart program? How would a choral conductor like Robert Istad handle the purely orchestral first half? And would the Camerata Singers, which began as a community chorus, be up to the quality required at this level?
We got our answers Saturday night: great, fine and yes.
The LBSO audience usually likes things big and splashy; there’s an all-Russian program practically every season. But the place was packed the other night for the more intimate, more formal charms of Mozart, and the audience was not only large but enthusiastic.
Istad looked perfectly at home on the LBSO podium. He strikes a patrician air, maintains a clear stick technique, and seemed to know what he wanted, not just in the mighty Requiem, but in the opening overture to The Magic Flute and the youthful Symphony No. 25. The orchestra responded with some clean, well-balanced, technically accomplished and thoroughly stylish playing. A couple of wayward moments in the Requiem did not detract from the overall excellence of the evening’s performances.
And the Camerata? They are obviously ready for prime time. Their performance in the Requiem was simply spectacular, with each section coming on strong individually and blending beautifully. The articulation was precise, the textures transparent. And throughout, they sang with power, beauty, and, where required, finesse.
The soloists in the Requiem were on the whole excellent. Elissa Johnson showed once again why her lustrous soprano is in demand for this sort of thing throughout Southern California. I-Chin Lee’s rich mezzo contributed some memorable moments, and tenor Nicholas Preston, who made such a good impression in the Monteverdi Vespers with the Camerata earlier this month, did so again here. Randall Gremillion’s bass timbre took some getting used to, and the “Tuba mirum” did not impress. He did, however, provide a strong foundation in the ensembles.
Speaking of the “Tuba mirum,” trombonist Brad Close played his solo part expertly, with great musicianship and lovely tone.
The aforementioned Symphony No. 25 is a hoot. It’s exactly the sort of piece you would expect from a hormonal 17-year-old who also happened to be insanely gifted. An example of what is known as the “Sturm und Drang’ (storm and stress) style, which was popular back then (1773), it’s all emotion, drama and exaggeration, full of emphatic accents, extreme dynamic contrasts and wild swings in mood. It also happens to be constructed impeccably; Mozart had been composing since age 5 and this is one of the first works to exhibit his mature skill.
So there you are — beautiful singing, impeccable playing, masterful conducting and a nearly sold-out house.