The greatest season I'm likely to see from SFS came to an end last night, with a choral-focused concert of Ligeti's Lux Aeterna, Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw, and Beethoven's 9th.
It made for a short but powerful first half. Ligeti's microtonal polyphony creates a vast haze of sound, with pitches and chords moving in and out of focus. It is ghostly and beautiful music, and will bring to mind the composer's Requiem for anyone who saw SFS perform it a few years ago. The Schoenberg was so short I didn't get much of a fix on it, especially given that a young girl sitting behind me, age perhaps 7 or 8, whispered to her mother during it - an unfortunate distraction, as the child had also whispered to her mother during the hushed and delicate Ligeti. Perhaps mom had a talk with her, because there wasn't a peep out of her during the 65-minute Beethoven. Wish that talk had taken place before the concert.
As for the Beethoven, it was a fine "central" performance, with no eccentricities at all. It was not noticeably fast or noticeably slow; everything worked extremely well without bringing any new interpretive insights to how you might perform the 9th. As such, I won't be buying the recording; I have several "central" performances of the complete LvB symphonies already.
The chorus, the big star of the show, was tremendous: responsive, rock-solid in tone, dynamics, and ensemble, producing a clear yet powerful sound and sailing through the uncongenial choral writing.
Erin Wall and Kendall Gladen, the soprano and alto soloists, were just fine in their ensemble and brief solo or duet contributions. Bass Nathan Berg had a bad night, sounding grainy, wobbly, and constricted on top; I saw people looking at each other and grimacing at the end of his first entrance. Tenor William Burden sang the difficult solo in the 6/8 Alla marcia section gloriously, with heroic thrust and beautiful tone. In the orchestra, special kudos to Robert Ward and Jessica Valenti for nearly flawless work in the treacherous 1st and 4th horn parts. And Catherine Payne, you were great in the solo piccolo part in the last movement; I hope it was as much fun to play as it was to hear you play.