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Music Review

Chorale Honors Shaw With Music of Brahms, Lauridsen

April 27, 1999|RICHARD S. GINELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fate commanded the dedication of the Los Angeles Master Chorale's concert Sunday night to choral legend Robert Shaw, who died in January. That Sunday's program at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion mostly consisted of Brahms was most opportune; it's hard to conceive of anything more consoling than Brahms' best choral music.

Yet the concert was also a celebration of a living composer, USC's Morten Lauridsen, whose reputation went into orbit this year after a Master Chorale CD of his music, "Lux Aeterna" (RCM), was nominated for a Grammy. Lauridsen has tapped into something deep and resounding in his audience, writing radiant, heartfelt, eminently singable choral music without apology.

Lauridsen's "Mid-Winter Songs" (1980), on the program Sunday, is not typical of the other, later works on the CD. It dons a cloak of Americana emblazoned with streaks of Copland proclamations in "Lament for Pasiphae" and Bernstein syncopations in "Like Snow" and "Mid-Winter Waking." Yet it creates a similar enveloping effect with its homogenous blending of orchestral and choral forces, and conductor Paul Salamunovich balanced them superbly, especially at low volumes.

The rest of the evening was a tour through some not-often-traveled avenues of choral Brahms, with one standard work, the Alto Rhapsody, and the tiny "Ave Maria" inserted in place of the rarer, originally announced "Triumphlied." Salamunovich applied a pronounced lingering tempo in the opening measures of "Schicksalslied" but to moving effect, producing full dramatic choral weight in the Allegro section. The Master Chorale gave a powerful account of the overlooked "Nanie," from the angelic entrance of the sopranos onward.

The Alto Rhapsody just missed the awesome heights of its neighbors; mezzo-soprano Claudine Carlson had the right, soothing timbre but sounded a bit tremulous, and there could have been more poetry in the playing of the Sinfonia Orchestra.

On the whole, though, Brahms brings out the best in this magnificent chorus, igniting an ardently emotional yet not over-the-top response with a rich bass end, immaculate balances and excellent diction. Indeed, Salamunovich has sharpened and refined his choral instrument to a virtually unbeatable level.

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