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MUSIC REVIEW : Virtuose Balances Delicate Voices and Technique : The disciplined, elite choir of the San Francisco Girls Chorus delivers light clarity and hushed refinement in Long Beach.


LONG BEACH — Delicate fluidity distinguished the concert presented by the elite choir of the San Francisco Girls Chorus--called Virtuose--Sunday afternoon.

Singing before a far-from-capacity audience in the 1,100-seat Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach, the 17-member group shone during quiet works by Monteverdi and Canadian composer Healey Willan, which require sustained, seamless phrasing.

Perhaps due to training intended to protect young voices, the girls--who range in age from 16 to 20--mustered little power. Still, artistic director Sharon J. Paul exploited the strengths of her Virtuose in crisp, precisely synchronized rhythms--as in Orazio Vecchi's "Fammi una Canzonetta Capricciosa" or Egil Hovland's "Laudate Dominum"--and in neatly etched polyphony, as in Kodaly's gentle "Ave Maria."

The effect of transparent textures was augmented in part by the group's thin, reedy tone quality, itself exacerbated by acoustics of the hall; depending on specific location, much of the sound missed the front few rows, though without sacrificing the unforced clarity that characterized the choir's style. A shift to more central seating further back corrected the added problem.

Individually, the soprano of Elizabeth Wilson Rood exemplified the light clarity of the ensemble as a whole, while bringing sensitive grace to her solo during the spiritual "There Is a Balm in Gilead," arranged by William L. Dawson.


Hushed refinement did not always suit the task at hand, however. Only accompanist Dwight Okamura--who also arranged two of the selections on the program--appeared to capture the freedom inherent in Kirby Shaw's adaptation of "Puttin' on the Ritz," by Irving Berlin.

Furthermore, having established themselves as a disciplined chorus--always performing by memory, hands held at their sides, foreign texts well-enunciated--attempts at cute staging sometimes lent an unwelcome element of artificiality. Joseph Haas' "Kommt, lasst uns allesamt" offers enough joyful repartee in its score without the singers assembling around the piano to affect pseudo-informality.

Nevertheless, appropriate staging, as for Irving Fine's two sparkling choruses on texts from "Alice in Wonderland"--"The Lobster Quadrille" and "Father William"--added to the effectiveness of the works.

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