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Music Reviews : Master Chorale Sings a Currie Christmas

December 15, 1987|JOHN HENKEN

"Christmas With John Currie" proved a long, loose affair Sunday evening. The Scottish conductor and Los Angeles Master Chorale filled the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with good singing, good cheer and a near-capacity crowd of instant good friends.

There is in such things a fine line between a choral fest and a sentimental mess, which Currie cannily trod with an almost boisterous bonhomie. A few carols less would have tightened the proceedings considerably, but once presented, who would spurn such gifts?

The chorale opened with a roar in a zesty seasonal Fanfare by Currie himself. Its most striking work, though, was done at steadily supported, whisper-soft levels.

The more substantial, classically oriented pieces included a Bruckner Ave Maria, a remarkably tender Carol by Ives and Britten's poignant, antiphonal Hymn to the Virgin. Currie made the deft arrangements of the mostly familiar traditional carols.

Currie kept the audience thoroughly involved in the program, both as a silent partner in his genial conversational chatter and as a far from silent extended chorus in five of the carols.

He also rehearsed, cajoled and badgered the crowd into a delightfully stumbling, delirious performance of a three-part Currie opus called "The Animals." Beastly it was, in several ways, but a fun and funny collective celebration as well.

The principal soloists for the evening were Juliet Mills and Maxwell Caulfield. The pair brought British accents and a modest supply of seasonal fervor to a mixed bag of readings, ranging from the famous "Yes, Virginia" editorial to poems by Frost and Tennyson.

The Master Chorale provided some of its own soloists. Soprano Diane Demetras sang an Ave Maria by Verdi with understated passion and limpid tone, mezzo Paula Rasmussen produced gentle warmth in Currie's setting of "Away in the Manger" and baritone Edward Levy carried much of the burden in Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Christmas Carols with clear-voiced, authoritative ease.

A brave little band culled from the Master Chorale's Sinfonia offered elegant, supportive accompaniment.

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