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Pious Works Offer Low-Key Pleasures

April 28, 1998|TIMOTHY MANGAN

The Los Angeles Master Chorale, in its latest concert Sunday at the First United Methodist Church of Pasadena, offered an unusual selection of music for chorus and organ, five works with a high quotient of piety, which isn't the same thing as excitement.

What was missing was a variety of mood, or perhaps just a few more rhythmical allegros to counteract the prevailing lull of lyrical andantes. Still, there were quiet pleasures to be had on this occasion, not the least of which was the consistently fine singing of the Master Chorale as led by Paul Salamunovich and accompanied by Frederick Swann, longtime organist of the Crystal Cathedral who moves to L.A.'s First Congregational Church in the fall.

Salamunovich and choir are singing elegantly these days, poised in execution and balanced just so toward the warm end of the spectrum. Nothing seems done for mere effect, either. Even dynamic contrasts are kept within contexts.

Written for a provincial parish, Dvorak's Mass in D, heard in its original version, earns its charm by the simplicity of its means--pastoral singing lines and an avoidance of theatricality. Here, the cushioned textures and dovetailed phrasings of the choir gave special pleasure.

The performance of "Psalm 117: Praise the Lord, All Ye Nations" by Jean Langlais, the late organist of Paris' St. Clotilde, was billed as a world premiere. Scored for three trumpets, organ and choir, the nine-minute work proved mystical in mood, contrasting streaming chants with grandly clangorous fortes.

Parry's "I Was Glad When They Said Unto Me," sung at every English coronation since 1902, provided, with its marching bass and roaring munificence, a fine (if predictable) example of Edwardian music. Britten's Festival Te Deum, a subtly expressive work, and Kodaly's "Laudes Organi," his sincere but discursive last composition, concluded the program.

Swann had opened it with a solo piece, Max Reger's Toccata, Opus 59, No. 5, whose minor-keyed grandiloquence, though amply demonstrating the pipe organ's capabilities, perhaps only an organist could love.

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