COSTA MESA — The Pacific Chorale balanced listener preferences with a commitment to presenting new music in its concert Sunday night at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Director John Alexander chose a program of three 20th-Century American works, including one West Coast and one world premiere, all sharing a penchant for tonality and melodiousness. Still, despite easy accessibility, the styles remained distinct.
Responding to a commission by the Orange County Philharmonic Society, James Hopkins based his "Songs of Eternity" on poetry, by the Nobel Prize-winning Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore, dealing with love and death. He provided a haunting score, with orchestral treatment reminiscent of Mahler in its chamber-music groupings and delicacy.
In this premiere performance, the text rang clearly, even during imitative sections, and phrases flowed with deft control of dynamics and tone quality. Flutist Louise DiTullio lent an otherworldly, Eastern flavor during a solo that intertwined with the opening lines, "This song of mine will wind its music around you my child, like the fond arms of love," which returned to close the final movement.
The piece was sponsored by Santa Ana residents Edward and Helen Shanbrom in memoriam to their son, David Lee Shanbrom, who was killed in a traffic accident in 1986.
Dominick Argento's Te Deum is a dramatic, sometimes gimmicky, and often difficult work that received its West Coast premiere on this occasion. The chorus shone in a cappella sections, captivating with rich, unforced sound, hushed and evocative. Forceful, thickly accompanied sections brought less reliable results, however. Here, the Pacific Symphony members frequently overshadowed the singers, while sopranos dissolved into strident, questionably pitched top notes.
Though Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms" could have benefited from a crisper rhythmic approach to the initial movement, it flourished during ever-attentive, exquisitely balanced, subdued passages. Fourteen-year-old Anthony Kalomas infused the alto solo, for Psalm 23, with innocent purity, but Alexander demanded little insightful inflection. Cellists Timothy Landauer and Kevin Plunkett drew a poignant duet over harpist Marcia Dickstein's simple accompaniment.