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Dance and Music Reviews : Master Chorale: Potpourri Evening

October 30, 1989|BRUCE BURROUGHS

What does Gordon Getty have in common with Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, Stephen Foster and George Gershwin? Easy. He is an American who wrote some music that the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia performed Saturday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to open their 1989-90 season.

And there the similarity ends.

Conductor John Currie touted the world premiere of the San Francisco composer's six "Victorian Scenes" as a major musical event, but the high points of this "Americana" potpourri evening occurred elsewhere.

Though a Haydn-ish Moravian hymn by J. F. Peter (who died in 1813) was a delightful new acquaintance, only Barber's a cappella "Heaven-Haven" and Robert Shaw's arrangement of the spiritual "Set down, servant!" demonstrated the combined pitch security, dynamic control, vocal blend and musical exuberance that have made the Chorale's reputation.

Otherwise, rehearsal-like sluggishness prevailed. Rough brass attacks hurt Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," the long, aching arch that is Barber's Adagio for Strings remained earthbound, and inadequate soloists compromised Gershwin and Foster songs.

As for Getty's musically callow settings of Tennyson and Housman poems--old pieces, new orchestrations--they miss the emotional point of such miniatures as the latter's "With rue my heart is laden."

The first one (1959) is no more unimaginative--as opposed to merely simple--a composition than its newer companions: too much orchestral unison with choral melody lines, no four-part writing--three settings for women alone, three for men--no counterpoint, no harmonic or rhythmic adventures, no thematic development.

It was a soporific administered six times. Momentary variety provided by chimes and a single cruelly low alto line felt welcome.

The Master Chorale season is open . . . ajar.

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