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MUSIC REVIEW : Works by Handel, Schoenberg, Milo at Cal State Long Beach

December 02, 1987|CHRIS PASLES | Times Staff Writer

The programming was bold but the execution pallid at a concert of music by Handel, Schoenberg and Leon Milo presented in the Cal State Long Beach Recital Hall on Monday by members of the university orchestra, New Music Ensemble and Lyric Theatre.

With high contrast in musical style, the program opened with Handel's bel-canto monodrama "Lucretia" and closed with Schoenberg's Expressionist "Pierrot lunaire." Sandwiched in between was Milo's inoffensive "Hei-Kyo-Ku," a short study built upon contrasts of its own.

Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Vlahos was more successful as the soloist in "Lucretia" than as the speaker in "Pierrot."

To Handel, she brought vocal poise, care and intelligence--admirable qualities in themselves, although not altogether sufficient for a work that depicts Lucretia's violent anger at her ravishment, her appeal to the gods for revenge and her decision to kill herself so that she can pursue vengeance from hell.

But Vlahos' dramatic sense did not extend much beyond the use of dark shading. Still, she embellished the repeats of her arias with neatness and taste, and suffered only occasionally from sagging pitch.

Harpsichordist Michael Carson and cellist Gregory Adamson provided pale accompaniment.

Vlahos met the challenges of "Pierrot lunaire" more fitfully. She tended to sing the work rather than than sing-speak it (so much for Sprechstimme), lessening its dramatic impact. Also, her repertory of characterization turned out to be limited, either not clearly focused or verging on exaggeration, as in her little witch's voice, or, through major shifts in timbre, on evocations of Dietrich--or even Erda.

Vlahos was not much helped by the timid, rhythmically flaccid playing of the ensemble conducted by Carson. Nor by the many trigger-finger page turners who usually obliterated the endings of Schoenberg's songs.

Milo's four-minute, apparently serial "Hei-Kyo-Ku" was built upon a series of contrasts: legato lines steadily sung by soprano Elizabeth Pehlivanian against pointillistic, percussive accompaniment; the same text sung sequentially in two languages--English and Japanese--and a variety of open and closed textures, in which bright, metallic colors predominated. Conducted by Roger Hickman, the 18-member ensemble played the piece securely.

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