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MUSIC REVIEW : Chorale Opener Pays Tribute to AIDS Fallen


COSTA MESA — William Hall and the Master Chorale of Orange County opened their 39th season Saturday with a program intended to offer consolation and support to families and friends of those who have fallen to AIDS.

For many both on and off the stage at Segerstrom Hall, this seemed a very personal testament, whether to a lost friend or loved one--who once gave so much and held even greater promise--or to fear of the future, of the horrifying thought that the general populace might prefer to look elsewhere, at least until there is nowhere else to look.

Hall's choice of music reflected a mixture of emotions and reactions. "Love Alone" is Ned Rorem's setting of poet Paul Monette's "Here," a grief-ridden cry written after the loss to AIDS of a cherished partner. For his "Alto Rhapsody," Brahms heightens the sense of isolation and the need for love in text chosen from Goethe's "Harzreise im Winter." Faure's Requiem closed the concert with its vision of death as transcendent.

The union of the men in the Master Chorale with the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, for the works by Rorem and Brahms, increased the impact of the message musically and poignantly (the Gay Men's Chorus lost its first music director, Jerry Carlson, to AIDS in 1987; Jon Bailey now leads). In "Love Alone," the combined ensembles achieved flowing declaration, in turn powerful and quietly anguished.

Sandra McCune and Tania Fleischer complemented admirably in Rorem's four-hand piano accompaniment filled with bittersweet dissonance and angry clusters.

As the entreating protagonist of the Rhapsody, Wendy Hillouse used her rich, unfailing mezzo to create a dark mood at once lonely and uplifting. Hall kept the orchestra and male voices in neatly balanced sympathy.

Faure's unique Requiem received less consistent treatment, sometimes attaining a floating etherialism, other times emerging merely detached and unfocused. Baritone Douglas Lawrence and soprano Rebecca Semanie brought centered tone and general reliability to their roles but Lawrence required occasional pitch adjustments and Semanie's notes--perhaps affected by her ninth month of pregnancy--thinned as they ascended.

Nevertheless, the message remained clear, and Faure's somber melodies and lush harmonies served as fitting parallels to the serious and far-reaching consequences of this disease on our community, as well as to the wealth of enduring contributions made by so many it has taken from us.

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