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MUSIC REVIEWS : Nuanced 'Canciones' by Master Chorale

November 21, 1994|TIMOTHY MANGAN

However indefinable the quality we call taste may be, one thing is for sure: Paul Salamunovich has a lot of it.

The music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale put together a program dubbed "Canciones para Los Angeles" that in less sensitive hands could have easily turned into the kind of thing where the entire choir ends up in sombreros, clicking castanets. Not even close, here.

Salamunovich (in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Saturday night) began this program, a collection of Spanish and Latin American music, with a Gregorian chant "Ave Maria," and segued into Victoria's 16th-Century setting of it, both sung with grace and warm nuance. He continued with 16th-Century New-World music by the little-known Fernando Franco and Fructos del Castillo, again projected in entirely un-zombie-like fashion.

Through the harmonic thicket of Villa-Lobos' "Bendita Sabedoria," to the trumpeting textures of Jean Berger's "Brazilian Psalm," to the luxurious harmonies of Enrique Gonzalez Medina's "Sancta Maria," Salamunovich coaxed poised balances and elegant sonorities.

In fact, the choir's gently nuanced, understated performances made such potentially sentimental offerings as songs by Carlos Guastavino, and the "Songs of Mexico" arranged by Ramon Noble the highlights of the program. Mezzo-soprano Helene Quintana gave a winning, molto espressivo presentation of the mournful tango "El Chiquilin de Bachin" by Piazzolla.

Winds and percussion joined the chorale for Lalo Schifrin's eclectic "Cantares Argentinos," a 24-minute song cycle evoking the styles of Poulenc and Stravinsky, spicy, colorful and acerbic settings of interesting texts. Its dedicatees gave it a refined reading.

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