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BWW Review: A JOYFUL NOISE at Carnegie Hall

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MasterVoices and Friends Bring Festive Sounds to New York City

BWW Review: A JOYFUL NOISE at Carnegie Hall

The outside temperature had plummeted to winter levels, but no one inside Carnegie Hall on Monday, December 6 was paying attention. The air was alive with the happy buzz of people for whom this was the first time back at the Hall since the pandemic began, greeting friends and talking with the kind of elated brightness one doesn't always hear in a concert hall. Everyone was glad to be back, delighted to just sink down into the red velvet seats and let music bathe the ears.

On this night, the audience was treated to the sounds of the justifiably acclaimed MasterVoices chorus. Known as the Collegiate Chorale at its founding in 1941 and since 2013 under the direction of their superb artistic director and conductor, Tony Award winner Ted Sperling, MasterVoices' 100+ members presented "A Joyful Noise" as their 80th Season opener. They had abundant help from the lovely soprano Mikaela Bennett, the fabulous a capella group Take 6, the marvelous Northwell Health Nurse Choir, and a versatile small ensemble of some of New York's finest instrumentalists. Along with a sizable, excited audience, there were a few hundred invited first responders in the Hall to cheer them all on.

There were several peak moments in the ninety-minute concert (performed without intermission). One of these came early in the evening. Randall Thompson would have been so pleased hearing MasterVoices perform his gorgeous "Alleluia" with nuance, grace, and excellent pitch. The piece allowed the group to demonstrate its considerable choral skills, making whatever would come next almost (but not) anti-climactic! More greatness was yet to come.

In fact, it came in the next selection. Juilliard-trained soprano Mikaela Bennett sang with clarity and accuracy in George F. Handel's "Let the Bright Seraphim" (from his oratorio, Samson). The highlight of this aria was her "duet" with Hugo Moreno on Baroque trumpet. This instrument is smaller than the standard trumpet and produces a much higher sound. It pairs exceptionally well with the soprano voice. Mr. Moreno and Ms. Bennett captured all the joy and rapture of the aria. Bravi to both of them.

The exciting group Take 6 was an audience favorite, particularly in "If We Ever Needed the Lord Before (We Sure Do Need Him Now)." There are a couple of talented arrangers in this group. This song was arranged by Mervyn Warren. After their set came another emotional highlight, Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms".

This brief but major choral work had to have all hands on deck. Maestro Sperling kept the troops in hand. Their Hebrew diction was mostly clear, the beautiful finale was spell-bindingly quiet, and the outer movements were an exhilarating thrill ride of sound. The second movement begins with a treble solo. Bernstein was quite specific about using only an unchanged male voice in this section, but this is not someone easily found. Ms. Bennett sang the solo with its harp accompaniment (exquisitely played by Grace Paradise) and did a commendable job. Several chorus members had brief solos. Bravi tutti!

Because Hanukah fell right between Thanksgiving and Christmas as did this concert, there just had to be some Hanukah songs! Arranger Jeffrey Biegel created a lively, clever grouping of mostly well-known tunes ("Hanukah Fantasy") for MasterVoices. They were as much fun to listen to as they are to sing. Once again the stalwart instrumental group gave them great back-up, helped by the terrific arrangement!

Take 6, one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) men's a capella groups dating from 1980, drove the audience wild with their crazy fun rendition of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" arranged by member Mark Kibble and two other holiday songs. This group demonstrated why they are the winners of TEN Grammy awards, multiple other awards from the NAACP, the Dove Awards, and more. Their special blend of outstanding musicianship, their humor, and their unusually good mix of personalities all work to generate an exceptional moment or more in any concert. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to see them at Carnegie Hall. When the time comes for their next appearance in New York, run, don't walk, to the box office!

For the last two numbers of the evening, the Northwell Health Nurse Choir performed the timely "You Will Be Found" from the musical "Dear Evan Hansen" and the equally timely "Lean on Me/Stand by Me". The deeply moved audience gave them a well-deserved standing ovation.

The festive evening concluded with all the performers onstage to sing the traditional "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" arranged by Mark Kibble and Cedric Dent. It was a fitting end to the concert, indeed, making "A Joyful Noise" "noisy" in the very best way.

MasterVoices has more concerts to come this season. Of special note will be a performance of Stephen Sondheim's "Anyone Can Whistle" on March 10, 2022 at Carnegie Hall. For more information, go to www.mastervoices.org or call 646.202.9623


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