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MUSIC REVIEW : Pacific Symphony Shows Strength, Vitality

October 21, 1994|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

COSTA MESA — Patrons of symphony concerts sometimes resent the inclusion on their programs of choral/ symphonic works, one reason being the secondary role the orchestra would seem to play in such works.

That putative reading is seldom true, of course. At the opening of the Pacific Symphony's 16th season Wednesday night at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, two large-scale choral pieces, preceded by an instrumental overture, made up the program. But the orchestra, seated, naturally, center-stage, definitely dominated the aural horizon.

Opening nights should always be this gratifying. Under music director Carl St.Clair, the agenda of Frank Ticheli's brand-new "Pacific Fanfare," James Hopkins' year-old "Songs of Eternity" and Mozart's Requiem, K. 626, emerged technically splendid and musically uplifting.

The orchestra played with a wondrous transparency throughout, and the Pacific Chorale, 116 strong on this occasion, sang with inspiration, with mellow tone and words forward and clarified.

St.Clair's detailed pacing of the Requiem defined its continuity expertly, giving the familiar work an unaccustomed glow and its Latin texts a fresh perspective. Always competent, conscientious and musically sensitive, the East Coast-trained conductor from Texas this time around added a spiritual dimension one has not always noticed in his work. There was authority and mastery in every aspect of this performance of the Requiem.

With the exception of Brian Matthews' bright, clear and resonant bass, the solo vocal quartet--also including soprano Joyce Guyer, mezzo Phyllis Pancella and tenor David Hamilton--proved serviceable but undistinctive. Prepared by John Alexander, the Pacific Chorale met its own high standards for blended tone and articulate singing.

Commissioned originally by the Orange County Philharmonic Society, and first heard in April, 1993, on the Chorale's Costa Mesa series, Hopkins' "Songs" is a most touching, handsomely wrought setting of three Tagore poems. The composer wrote this delicate and autumnal music--which recalls both Mahler and Brahms in its emotional directness--in memory of David Lee Shanbrom, who died in a truck-trailer accident in 1986. This performance seemed to realize all the beauties, as well as the musical thrust, of the work.

At the beginning of the evening, St.Clair's conducting of the world premiere of Ticheli's "Pacific Fanfare," for woodwinds, antiphonal brass and percussion, started the season off in as upbeat a mode as one can imagine. Ticheli's imagination seems fervid, his compositional techniques firmly in place. In six compact minutes, the composer produces wake-up music that sounds at once novel and familiar, exciting and serious, optimistic and thoughtful.

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