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MUSIC REVIEWS : English Works by Chorale

May 04, 1993|HERBERT GLASS

The choral buffs might have been reasonably content with Sunday's concert by the Los Angeles Master Chorale of English music of three centuries. But there were problems.

That the grandiose scores were presented in a manner more worthy of a neighborhood church than the glittering surroundings of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion gave one pause to ponder the Master Chorale's financial situation as well as the wisdom of director Paul Salamunovich's program choices.

Handel's monumental anthems, "Zadok the Priest" and "The King Shall Rejoice," are not worth doing unless one does them as written for and heard in Westminster Abbey in 1727 for the coronation of King George II.

With the huge chorus accompanied by an electric organ's feeble simulations of Handel's strings, trumpets and drums, we were presented with a brilliant historical event filtered through--and done in by--today's economic exigencies.

The striking orchestral harmonies of Gustav Holst's poignant Walt Whitman setting, "Ode to Death," were likewise left to the imagination, despite organist William Beck's attempt to inject some color into the gray tapestry.

Here, however, one had to admire the Chorale's newfound ability, under Salamunovich's leadership, to produce refined tone and clear, balanced textures at all volume levels.

But the disappointments extended further, to a famous example of choral Victoriana, Hubert Parry's Milton setting, "Blest Pair of Sirens," bereft of the composer's lush instrumentation, and Vaughan Williams' rugged "Benedicite," much of whose effect is gained through its chunkily brassy orchestration and the exquisite (equally absent) oboe solo introducing the soprano solo.

The alternation of jazz rhythms and Gregorian etherealism in John Rutter's "The Falcon" (1969), presumably designed with just such keyboard accompaniment as was present, came off well, and there were comparable satisfactions in the young Benjamin Britten's Te Deum, for chorus and organ, where the Chorale's ability to temper the big English cathedral sound with delicate, almost impressionistic traceries could be admired.

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