Making his first appearance as permanent music director of the Master Chorale of Orange County, William Hall led a soaring, muscular performance of Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" Sunday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.
Hall, who had conducted his Los Angeles-based chorale earlier in the day in Pasadena (see review on Page 8), showed no signs of fatigue and offered an account that was full of felicitous touches, responsive to the text and sensitive to the score.
The Gloria opened with electrifying energy; the Credo was bold and bright. But most admirable were the conductor's delicate tone-painting in the Incarnatus and, especially, the creation of a sense of spiritual desolation in the Agnus Dei.
Hall made the militant eruption in that movement a cold, threatening war machine. Too bad the later blasts from brass and percussion proved inadequate for the conception. Other quibbles would include the overly speedy, mood-breaking tempo Hall chose for "Pleni sunt coeli gloria tua" and, initially, the somewhat jaunty rhythms he gave to "Dona nobis pacem."
The four soloists were strong but not ideal. Karon Poston sang with a hooded, velvety, arching soprano, but also with odd vowel sounds and murky enunciation. Mezzo-soprano Alice Baker proved unfailingly fervent and gripping.
Tenor Jonathan Mack had an uncharacteristically bad night, singing with one-dimensional, chalky tone. Bass Louis Lebherz sang with a big, bright voice; he proved vocally clean and well focused, and contributed mightily to establishing the desolate atmosphere of the Agnus Dei.
Except for thinness in the exposed high-lying soprano parts, the chorale sang with massive, richly supported sound and proved capable of power and spirit. Contrapuntal entrances were strong, secure and, where appropriate, joyful.
The Pacific Symphony responded to Hall with vitality and animation, though it seemed underpowered at times. Brass and timpani, in particular, all too often appeared to evaporate in the Segerstrom Hall acoustics. Still, the balance, transparency and clarity among the strings established an eminently desirable hushed and spiritual mood for the Sanctus and the Benedictus.
Concertmaster Endre Granat played his solo with straightforward warmth.