NEWPORT BEACH — Music Director William Hall led the Master Chorale of Orange County into war Sunday night with the very reverberant hall at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. His troops fought bravely, but victory eluded them.
The main battle in this program of works by Maurice Durufle occurred over his Requiem, Opus 9. The choir attacked in force, with neat intonation, and crystalline enunciation. Unfortunately for them, Durufle had reserved the loudest dynamic indications for startling effects in this (potentially) intimate work. The Chorale struggled through a full third of the mass before heeding Hall's urgings to hold back.
Since the chorale's \o7 piano\f7 bore a close resemblance to its \o7 mezzo forte\f7 during this surprisingly extended period of adjustment, contrast proved problematical. All of the loud sections were very loud indeed--a strident, nearly screaming "Libera eis" capped the third movement.
To their credit, however, the singers usually managed to control tone quality, at least after the women delivered a subdued, simply stated "Sanctus." Here, the triple-\o7 forte \f7 "Hosannas" emerged a welcome contrast.
Richard Fredricks' powerful baritone and, particularly, Martha-Jane Weaver's dark, luscious mezzo-soprano, conveyed moving involvement during their solos, but overuse of a wide vibrato marred the effect of Fredricks' lines.
Amid the inconsistencies of this performance, organist Ladd Thomas lent unflaggingly eloquent support. Thomas, who chairs the Organ Department at USC, had already proved his mastery of the instrument during readings of the Prelude and Toccata from Durufle's dark and sometimes frightening Suite, Opus 5. These remained clear and rhythmically precise despite speed and density. Voicing in "Prelude et Fugue sur le nom d'Alain"--written in memory of the French organist-composer Jehan Alain--evolved with unfailing logic.
The Master Chorale may have lost its primary skirmish, but it fared well on other fronts. Apparently effortless control of quiet legato, without sacrificing text, maintained an atmosphere of devotion throughout "Ubi caritas," the first of "Quatre Motets sur des Themes Gregoriens." Success here was even more remarkable because of the selection's position on the program--the opening work, in which one might expect the kind of adjustment problems that surfaced later.