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Review: Beethoven's masterpiece has moments of brilliance but doesn't reach its potential

Published August 8, 2013 12:30 pm

Review • The 150-voice choir, 44-piece orchestra and four soloists are too much for the Logan stage.
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Logan • Beethoven's Missa Solemnis stands as one of choral music's pinnacles, but Wednesday's performance from the stage of Ellen Eccles Theatre didn't quite make the summit.

Presenting a large choral work has become an annual tradition for Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre. The show unites the company's orchestra and soloists with singers from the American Festival Chorus and Utah State University's Summer Choral Workshop.

Director Craig Jessop's musical forces included a 150-voice choir on risers that extended to the stage's back wall, a 44-piece orchestra and a quartet of soloists, all wedged on the narrow stage.

During the Mass' five sections, chorus members sang with precision, clean diction and keen musical inflection – all Jessop trademarks. But they were frequently covered by the potent orchestra, seated on the stage apron. Quiet passages with light accompaniment were exquisite, but most of the full-throated fugal passages didn't project.

Soloists included soprano Carla Thelen Hanson (Desdemona in UFOMT's "Otello"), whose voice bloomed from a nearly imperceptible pianissimo to piercing strength, but it often spread on top notes.

California resident Sarah-Nicole Ruddy's velvety alto shone in the last two movements when it rose confidently above the orchestra. But she didn't match well with Hanson and was often overpowered by the other soloists.

Tenor John Pickle (Eric in Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman") sang with strength and lyricism, soaring effortlessly to top notes with a full-bodied midrange. His impassioned passages during the Credo left a memorable impression.

Bass Richard Zuch (Daland in "The Flying Dutchman" and Lazar Wolf in "Fiddler on the Roof") was a standout, producing chills during the Agnus Dei and shaping phrases with touching poignancy.

UFOMT's talented orchestra, featuring musicians from across the nation, performed brilliantly. Their keen attention to Jessop's nuanced direction produced a rich, cohesive blend.

Beethoven included a violin solo in the Sanctus movement, intended to portray the Holy Spirit descending to Earth. Concertmaster Yen-Ling Chen played the part with glowing tone and faultless technique.

Chen created a transcendent and subliminal feeling, and the combined musical forces made this section the concert's highlight. —

Missa Solemnis

Beethoven's choral masterpiece thrilled and frustrated.

When • Reviewed Wednesday, Aug. 7

Where • Ellen Eccles Theatre, Logan

Presented by • Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre, American Festival Chorus and Utah State University Summer Choral Workshop