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William Hall Chorale Says It With Brahms Waltzes

February 13, 1996|SUSAN BLISS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEWPORT BEACH — As it did last year, the William Hall Master Chorale sent Valentine's Day greetings through works calculated to melt even the most hardened hearts. Sunday night, at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Brahms' "Neue Liebeslieder" waltzes, Opus 65, stood as the fulcrum of the program, entitled "Valentine's Day Gift II: Encore L'Amour."

In this, as in others throughout the evening, Hall led the chorus with characteristic attention to direction of phrases. His group painted many shades of delicate and bold dynamics and remained ever mindful of textual clarity and content.

Similarly, although none of the soloists for the work--sopranos Stephanie Thompson, Rebecca Semanie and Sandra Been and baritone Chad Berlinghieri--demonstrated memorable voices, all used their well-trained instruments with intelligence, sympathy and technical reliability. Semanie proved particularly moving as she conveyed the tortured maiden in "Nagen am Herzen." Pianists Sandra McCune and Tania Fleischer kept up lively, empathetic support.

Most of the pieces seemed chosen to highlight the choir's refined legato and minute control over dynamics. Chief among these stood three a cappella madrigals--by Orlando di Lasso, Marco Cara, and Orazio Vecchi--usually the province of small chamber choirs but still surprisingly fluid, unforced and compelling as sung by these 140 voices.

Hall devoted a substantial portion of the concert to lightweights--including his own arrangements of folk songs, for which flutist Lawrence Kaplan floated innocuous obbligato. While pleasing and unchallenging to the audience, they hardly tapped the flexibility of this disciplined and skilled ensemble.

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