Some unknown works by known composers go too often overlooked, while others deserve their neglect. Dvorak's oratorio, "St. Ludmila," as performed Saturday night by the Choral Society of Southern California, the Downey Symphony and soloists, belongs in the former category.
Especially puzzling is that this 1886 work, which tells of the conversion to Christianity of the Czech prince Borivoj and his heathen wife Ludmila (in AD 873), apparently had not been played in the United States until the performance at the Downey Theatre.
Granted, many of the recitatives sound like poor copies from Mendelssohn's "Elijah" (composed 40 years earlier) and that Dvorak's use of imitation and fugue seems somewhat overextended. Nevertheless, there is much to admire, especially a Slavonic force driving such choruses as the exultant "Mighty Lord," the lush, Brahmsian textures and the simple straightforwardness of its dramatic statement.
Conductor Nick Strimple kept the work moving and, except for some rough moments by the strings, achieved solid performances from both the orchestra and 73-voice chorus.
Of the five soloists, soprano Deborah McClung displayed the most authority. Mezzo-soprano Deborah Cree, tenor Michael Sells and bass Paul Piersall sang convincingly; although he pushed tempos, tenor Chris Lachonas also produced ringing sounds.