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Music Review

Pacific Chorale Ends Season With Stunning Vocal Survey

May 25, 1999|JOHN HENKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some of the most exciting and most affecting music-making these days is choral. There is an immediacy and a universality about communities of voices, but also a certain mystery, an aura of intuitive rituals.

John Alexander and the Pacific Chorale tapped several hot choral veins in their canny, generous season closer Sunday evening at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

Probably nothing is hotter in the choral world these days than the branch of American tradition that has blossomed most conspicuously in the music of Morten Lauridsen. The Pacific Chorale commissioned a piece from Lauridsen's USC colleague and former Pacific Symphony composer-in-residence Frank Ticheli and got a small gem in "There Will Be Rest."

Using a poem by Sara Teasdale, "There Will Be Rest" expands from closely clustered chords into serene arcs of imitative polyphony. The basic sense is hushed and meditative but never static, moving forward clearly and calmly. Ticheli gave the chorale music of seemingly effortless effect, of emotional and vocal resonance.

The Pacific Chorale gave Ticheli a radiantly warm, perfectly poised premiere. The singing had the muscle and sheen to keep the mostly soft music afloat in a big room without stressed edges or frayed tone. The piece makes its demands in sound and phrasing, and Alexander drew a quietly stunning performance from his choir.

Another branch of the American tradition that is in a major renaissance is the spiritual, and Moses Hogan is one of its central figures. His own cutting-edge choir has been heard in the area several times in recent years, and Alexander closed his program with Hogan's arrangements of "I Want Jesus to Walk With Me"--with a powerfully rooted solo from mezzo Lyria Pegram--"Elijah Rock" and "In That Great Gettin' Up Morning," the latter the house-rocking encore spotlighting baritone soloist Carver Cossey.

From the other side of the world comes a choral style also very much with us now, the music of Russian Orthodox liturgies. Alexander opened with two familiar classics, Lvovsky's "Lord, Have Mercy" and Chesnokov's "Salvation Is Created," both sung in Russian. Lvovsky's obsessive, dancing mantra demonstrated just how nimble this out-sized choir of 160 can be.

The rest of Alexander's unhackneyed program included Ginastera's urgent, fiercely expressive "Lamentations of Jeremiah"; Poulenc's beautifully spiky Mass in G, with its accentuation games and a sweetly reflective Agnus Dei solo from soprano Linda Williams Pearce; Ligeti's little soundscape diptych, "Night" and "Morning"; and three vibrant showcases from Virginia composer Adolphus Hailstork. Whether in Latin, Hungarian or English, the chorale communicated handsomely, balanced in sound and true in feeling.

Alexander gave the middle of the concert over to the estimable Pacific Chorale Children's Chorus, conducted by Mary Ester Blakley with pianist Jill Carter. The children sang excerpts from Britten's Missa Brevis, two difficult folk song arrangements and John Rutter's "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" with confident clarity and rhythmic point.

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