The Boise Philharmonic celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Boise Philharmonic Master Chorale on the season’s opening night at the Morrison Center. Music director Robert Franz programmed a night heavy in opera choruses for the occasion, an interesting choice for a group that specializes in symphonic works that are a slightly different breed.
The choruses — unlike arias — removed from their operas don’t always stand on their own. However, this was a great way to stretch the expectation of the chorale, and hear music from operas that are unlikely to be performed by Opera Idaho because of their size.
The program opened with “Gloria all’egitto” the triumphant march from the second act of “Aida.” This is a wonderful matchup between the two groups, both turning in powerhouse moments of Verdi’s majestic strains. And it’s a piece familiar enough to work.
That was followed by the orchestra’s performance of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 “Italian,” a piece written by the German composer on a tour of Italy. So, taken with the warmth of the country and its people, he wrote a musical love letter. Franz kept the musical mood bubbly and light, while the orchestra attacked the piece with a crisp vibrancy making it a complete delight.
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In the concert’s second half, the chorale and orchestra performed “Va pensiero” Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s “Nabucco.” This was less successful effort than the “Aida,” although the Franz and the orchestra performed the overture to that opera beautifully.
Next up was Verdi’s Anvil Chorus from Act II of “Il Travatore,” which was a blast and totally satisfying. Franz’s depiction told a story of finding the right percussion instrument — which turned out to be a car’s break drum — to fill in for anvils. Both groups found the right balance between the sprightly orchestral passages, and the powerful choral swells, and it was a real workout for the percussion section.
The evening ended with Alexander Borodin’s luscious “Polovtsian Dances,” a piece that is lyrically rich and musically evocative. It’s less known as part of the opera “Prince Igor,” and more from its staging by the great dance impresario Diaghilev, and for its themes that were used in the 1953 Broadway musical “Kismet” that produced the popular hit “Stranger in Paradise.”
It was a lovely way to end the evening because it’s the music that stands on its own (it’s sometimes performed without the chorus) and also offers a wonderful showcase for the voice. It left the audience cheering.
The night also included a presentation of a new biennial honor by longtime arts benefactress Esther Simplot to acknowledge dedication of service to the Philharmonic. The award, a maquette for the life-size statue of Simplot that stands in front of the performing arts academy, went to Judge Stephen Trott. A longtime supporter of the orchestra, Trott served on the board for many years in different capacities and gave the pre-concert lectures in Boise.
ABOUT THE CHORALE:
The Master Chorale formed in 1975 for a performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” which still is an annual tradition. The Philharmonic absorbed the Chorale in 2011 to secure its future. The two groups will perform together several times this season, including a performance of Mozart’s Requiem March 11-12.