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MUSIC REVIEW : Polished Sampler From Master Chorale

March 29, 1994|TIMOTHY MANGAN

There were no gargantuan tasks before Paul Salamunovich and the Los Angeles Master Chorale Sunday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, but they did bring off their modestly challenging program with considerable skill and warmth.

Working without an orchestra, Salamunovich had the Chorale singing in a polished and especially sensitive mode all evening and, what's more, in a sure and relaxed manner. The concert's joys, then, were many, though the musical-sampler agenda felt more like snacking than a complete and nourishing meal.

Harking back to a concept of Roger Wagner's, Salamunovich invited members of seven Southland college choirs to join the Chorale for nine brief pieces on the second half of the program.

In Bach's "Gott ist unsre Zuversicht" (from Cantata No. 197) and Handel's "Music Spread Thy Voice Around" (from "Solomon"), the conductor kept his choirs singing lightly, clearly and rhythmically--there were no muddled Baroque lines despite the large forces. Similarly, in the rolling phrases and rich textures of Vaughan Williams' "See the Chariot at Hand," he allowed its lushness while avoiding pomposity.

A cappella versions of "Shenandoah," Randall Thompson's once-popular (and still cherishable) "Alleluia" and Jester Hairston's spiritual "I Want Jesus" revealed the combined choirs in perfect balance and blend, sensitive to dynamics and phrasing with intelligent nuance. Indeed, it would be difficult to ask for more.

These same virtues surfaced when the Chorale by itself offered two seldom-heard works by 20th-Century masters. Bernstein's neo-medieval Missa Brevis, for a cappella chorus, percussion and countertenor, received a crisply executed and firmly directed reading from all involved, with John Klacka winding gracefully through the weird, high-flying countertenor solos.

A fine quartet of soloists--including a remarkable boy soprano, Michael Waring--took their turns in Britten's "Rejoice in the Lamb," a moving setting of a poem by the (literally) demented Christopher Smart. Salamunovich shaped a dramatically rising performance and his choir responded intensely.

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