Review: Lawrence choir, orchestra combine for solid concert

Individually, the Lawrence Chamber Orchestra and Lawrence Civic Choir are jewels in the crown of this city of the arts.

So when they come together for a performance, expectations are high. Add a program that includes only master works by Mozart, and you've got a sure bet.

That was the case Saturday night at Free State High School, where the choir and orchestra combined forces for "Season Finale."

The orchestra, under the direction of Steven Elisha, took the stage for the first half of the concert to perform "A Little Night Music," one of Mozart's most accessible works.

The musicians turned in a technically solid performance, though parts of the work lacked drama -- especially as the orchestra juxtaposed the familiar, heavy opening strains of the first movement (Allegro) with the lilting phrases that follow it. Granted, such dramatic contrasts would be difficult considering only 19 musicians were on stage at the time.

The orchestra especially seemed to jell on the fourth movement (Rondo), which -- though it's less familiar to most than the first two movements -- provided a strong finish to the concert's first half.

The second half of the evening featured a Mozart's "Requiem," a work that remained unfinished at the time of his death.

The 100-voice choir and orchestra were obviously well-prepared for the work, which never lacked direction despite being an hour long. The choir, directed by Steve Eubank, built to several dramatic climaxes, the most notable of which was in the dark "Lachrymosa" section.

Four soloists -- James Smith (bass), Bob Franz (tenor), Elizabeth Schellman (alto) and Lynda Canaday (soprano) -- blended their voices well.

The work suffered only from a few balance problems, with soloists occasionally covered by the orchestra, and the outnumbered men in the choir covered by both the orchestra and the women.

Hopefully, the concert's success will cue additional collaborations between the two volunteer organizations. They're already planning a joint performance for December that will feature highlights from Handel's "Messiah."

Both groups have periodically suffered from poor attendance at their performances. Pooling resources can only lead to better music and would help get the word out about the two underappreciated groups, which consistently turn in performances near the caliber of semiprofessional or professional groups.

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