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MUSIC REVIEWS : Vienna Choir Boys Will Be Boys--Pure and Simple

October 24, 1994|SUSAN BLISS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — One of the best things about the Vienna Choir Boys is thatthey they never pretend to be anything but children. They may be vocally blessed, trained and disciplined, but there is no Hollywood hype, no hint at worldliness beyond their 10 to 14 years, no saccharin stabs at calculated cuteness.

There is only purity of vocal production and of youth.

These qualities distinguished their performance Saturday night at Segerstrom Hall. Presented by the Orange County Philharmonic Society, the concert combined the natural innocence of 24 sheltered youngsters with the results of a nearly 500-year-old tradition of excellent instruction. Under the leadership of Georg Stangelberger, the outcome may not have moved the emotions, but it could not help but inspire admiration for unfailingly true tone production, clarity and precision.

Stangelberger took his chorus--one of the four touring groups, a combined total of 100 sopranos and altos, that make up the Vienna boys--through styles that spanned four musical periods and three languages. In Purcell's three pieces from "Come ye sons of art," written in the last quarter of the 17th Century, as in the conductor's own 1994 set--an "Ave Maria" and "Ocenas" (Our Father)--dedicated to those who died in the Bosnian conflagration--the ensemble maintained careful balance, excelling in fluid legato, but tackling Stangelberger's insistent, broken phrases and punctuating glissandi with aplomb.

Though Schubert--himself once a member of this esteemed organization--and Mozart received their due (the latter in a hodgepodge of German-sung and English-spoken translations of scenes arranged from his unfinished opera buffa "L'Oca de Cairo"), Stangelberger did not dwell only on the historical legacy of the choir. Besides his own compositions, the conductor/pianist also programmed other less-than familiar contemporary works--Austrian Heinz Kratochwil's jazzy "Jubilate Deo" and Canadian R. Murray Schafer's Western-sounding, a capella "Gamelan."

Throughout, his jaunty, sailor-bloused singers exhibited ever consistent polish.

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