Apollo Chorus, Elmhurst Symphony join forces for expansive Bruckner

Sun Mar 10, 2024 at 10:04 am

By Tim Sawyier

Stephen Alltop led the Apollo Chorus and Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra in Bruckner choral works Saturday night in Glenview.

The number of American performing ensembles that can date their lineage to the Romantic era is small and dwindling. Yet it is striking to consider that Anton Bruckner was still in his forties when Chicago’s Apollo Chorus was founded in 1872, in the wake of the Great Fire; the group was entering its second decade when the composer completed his Te Deum in 1884.

Under longtime music director Stephen Alltop, the Apollo joined forces Saturday night with the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra, which Alltop also helms, for a program at Glenview Community Church centered on the great Austrian symphonist’s choral works. It was a substantial collaborative effort that yielded largely polished results for the appreciative suburban audience.

Two dramatic Bruckner works for chorus and orchestra framed the program: his vigorous setting of Psalm 150 and the aforementioned Te Deum. The former set the tone for the night with a gleaming choral entrance and surging Alleluias. Soprano soloist Penelope Hough, an Apollo member, easily projected over her colleagues, who sang with unified force and immense commitment over a solid instrumental foundation from the Elmhurst players.

The Te Deum closed the evening. The wide intervals of opening create a sense of vast physical space, recalling the description of the composer’s symphonies as “cathedrals in sound.” The chorus continued to sing with spiritual force in this often ecstatic music, and were joined by a stellar quartet of soloists: soprano Michelle Areyzaga, mezzo Tetyana Vahnovska, tenor Martin Luther Clark, and baritone Bill McMurray.

Bruckner gives the most prominent role to the tenor, and Clark was an absolute standout in his solo contributions. A Curtis alum and third-year member of the Ryan Opera Center, the singer recently made his mark with a strong yet sensitive performance as Luis in Lyric’s Champion. Clark sang with striking poise, force, and pathos and one expects to hear further great things from him in the years to come. 

Areyzaga’s rich soprano and McMurray’s robust bass-baritone were nicely suited to their respective solo turns, and Vahnovska blended well with her colleagues in her less prominent role.

The Chorus also offered three smaller, a cappella Bruckner selections: Os justi meditabitur (WAB 30), Locus iste (WAB 23), and Ave Maria (WAB 6). These intimate settings made a lovely counterpoint to the more dynamic larger works, coming across as inward, ardent proclamations of faith, with an almost monastic feel to them, befitting the composer’s deep belief. Alltop oversaw fluent, nuanced accounts that drew the best from his devoted volunteers.

The Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra had their moment in the sun on the first half with Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 (“Linz”), selected in homage to Bruckner’s birthplace just outside the Austrian city. The orchestra is currently a mix of both professional and volunteer players, the latter particularly filling out the string sections, and in music of such transparency this was consistently apparent Saturday.

Still, even with the technical limitations, Alltop and his orchestra brought elan to the Allegro spirituoso, and were assured in the firmly stepping Menuetto. The Poco adagio between these came across as pale and monochrome, though Alltop kept up the clip in the concluding Presto to end the symphony with energetic flair.

The program will be repeated 4 p.m. Sunday at Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church. www.elmhurstsymphony.org

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Apollo Chorus, Elmhurst Symphony join forces for expansive Bruckner”

  1. Posted Mar 11, 2024 at 3:02 pm by Mike T.

    I was at the second performance in Elmhurst. I enjoyed it very much. A rare opportunity to hear several of Bruckner’s choral works. The Apollo Chorus was quite impressive.

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