John Alexander's Pacific Chorale has a core of about 26 professional singers. At full strength, some 150 voices, however, it loses its professional edge. The singing lacks incisive attack, tension in line and variety in dynamic and color.
Add to that a mostly a cappella program weighted toward sleep, death and mourning Sunday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, and the overall results were rather lugubrious.
Half the program was devoted to works by Eric Whitacre, now in his second year as the Chorale's composer-in-residence. His music is better than it sounded.
Take "When David Heard," a setting of a single sentence from II Samuel, that Alexander stretched almost to 19 minutes. The work builds quickly from hushed intonation to a gloriously anguished chord on the word "Absalom." Then it breaks into sequences of silence and wailing, which began to sound aimless and mannered, as if Alexander and the singers were losing focus and direction.