The individual water bottles next to each of the John Alexander Singers' chairs Sunday night at Founders Hall in Costa Mesa might have suggested a group of temperamental, pampered stars. Instead, listening to this select touring ensemble of the Pacific Chorale, audience members would have been struck by the same unselfish discipline and homogeneity that has long distinguished the singers' parent group.
The program, repeating an afternoon concert of Romantic and Impressionistic works, launched the Orange County Performing Arts Center's new choral series.
The demanding repertoire, coupled with the air system in a closed room, could explain the water bottles. Yet, even under those conditions, the 24 voices combined for a consistent, burnished blend that showed little wear-and-tear from the day's tasks. Music Director John Alexander led the ensemble in works illuminated by finely delineated phrasing and compelling rhythms.
Performances of a cappella compositions, such as Charles Stanford's "The Blue Bird" and Frederick Delius' "To Be Sung of a Summer Night on the Water"--showed unaccompanied choral music in its most straightforward form, through sustained vocal purity and quiet control.
In accompanied selections, the singers were well-supported by pianists Patricia Riffel and Lori Loftus. Brahms' "Liebeslieder" Waltzer, Opus 52, received touching attention to text, in turn simple and joyful, sorrowful and yearning or forceful and determined.
The singers' ability to convey story lines and shifting moods was impressive. The choir told tales of exotic romance in urgent, swirling readings of gypsy songs--Schumann's "Zigeunerleben," Opus 29, No. 3, and "Zigeunerlied" by Moritz Hauptmann. They broke out the wine glasses--literally--for Brahms' "Tafellied" (Toasting Song) and demonstrated polished flexibility in shifting characterizations for Ravel's Trois Chansons.
More than half of the singers were assigned solos, most of which further revealed the ensemble's signature sound--refined, somewhat light voices that focus and carry well. All were strong except for the last; Steven Chen betrayed the stress of the day in a trembling version of "Nicht wandle, mein Licht" from the "Liebeslieder" Waltzes.