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Music Reviews : Master Chorale Closes Its Season at Pavilion

April 23, 1990|BRUCE BURROUGHS

The Los Angeles Master Chorale closed its 1989-90 season Saturday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion by demonstrating in nearly equal measure its greatest virtue (elegant massed choral singing in major works) and most regrettable weaknesses (giving over big program segments of important music to overparted vocal soloists; fiddling with insubstantial new repertory of doubtful value).

The equivocal impression left by the group's recent work now becomes its temporary legacy; its loyal constituency deserves better.

For this valedictory, director John Currie surrounded the world premiere of Gordon Getty's "Annabel Lee" with Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms," Schubert's Mass in E-flat and three great Mozart concert arias for soprano.

On any occasion, Chorale and Currie could vanquish skepticism by doing everything on the level of the Bernstein and Schubert they gave here.

From the longest, softest legato lines to the crispest staccato syncopations, this was a colorfully sung, scrupulously musical, firmly led "Psalms" that obeyed its own Hebrew enjoinder: "Make a joyful noise!" Boy soprano Jason Domantay acquitted himself pitch-perfectly. In the Mass, sopranos and tenors sustained the Schubertian tessitura with admirable ease and security, and tenor Agostino Castagnola was standout quartet soloist.

Getty's attractively orchestrated setting of Poe, for male voices only, follows speech rhythm relentlessly. The sweet, accessible melodic line doesn't stretch single syllables over many notes, or soar with emotion or color. A whopping, self-indulgent exercise in overkill might have gotten nearer the hyper-Romantic tone of the poetry than this tepid solecism.

Soprano Patrice Michaels Bedi ventured Mozart's "Vado, ma dove?" (K. 583), "Bella mia fiamma, addio!" (K. 528), and "Ah se in ciel" (K. 538) in a mere peep of a voice. Poise, musicianship and impressive fioritura didn't produce drama or pathos. She could not sustain her highest pitches and everything in her lower octave was covered by the orchestra. And reading the score enhanced neither spontaneity of utterance nor communication with her hearers.

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