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MUSIC REVIEW : St.Clair Comes Up With Odd Mix of Mozart, Ticheli

March 28, 1994|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COSTA MESA — Mozart's sublime Mass in C minor was prefaced by two raucous contemporary works Friday on the Pacific Symphony program led by Carl St.Clair at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

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The bizarre programming can be explained, if not robustly defended.

St.Clair and the orchestra have been recording two works by composer-in-residence Frank Ticheli. To keep the players focused on that task, the first part of the program was given over to the Ticheli pieces--"Radiant Voices," commissioned by the orchestra and played for the first time last year, and "Postcard"--both of which the orchestra played with facile familiarity.

But only a very few composers can be juxtaposed with Mozart with any impunity.

With the 120-member Pacific Chorale outnumbering a reduced orchestra by more than two to one, this performance of the Mass became very much a choral one. The downside was that the singers, especially with the unstylishly lusty entrances of the men's voices early on, often reduced apprehensibility of the orchestra to pounding timpani and wheedling strings.

Given that the strings couldn't manage precise articulation even of the exposed falling eighth-note motif that opens the "Kyrie" (at a relatively moderate tempo, to boot), the loss wasn't exactly profound. But it did rule out expectations that the instrumental scoring would have anything to contribute toward reinforcing or commenting on the vocal lines.

The chorale did manage to be clear in communicating the text. But often, it also sounded compacted and sluggish, with contrapuntal lines dovetailing into a mass rather than maintaining independence.

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St.Clair and the orchestra's most effective moments occurred in the delicate tone-painting that opened and closed "Et incarnatus est," sung by Virginia Sublett.

Having replaced the originally announced Young-Ok Shin on about a week's notice, Sublett sang with a slender, coolish soprano that blossomed in the heights, if not throughout the range. But she had all the notes, and was reasonably secure in the coloratura.

Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, who had to sing up to an A in the "Laudamus Te," negotiated the top notes with bright, sometimes strident energy but her descending arpeggios sounded grievously coarse in the mid- to lower range. Neither of the women offered much in the way of a trill.

Jonathan Mack provided a light lyric tenor and, in his brief duties, Michael Gallup contributed a strong bass line. Hanley Daws, associate concertmaster of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, was guest concertmaster.

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