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.
Though begun before the tragic event, Anglican church composer Herbert Howells' Requiem was a response to the death of his 9-year-old son in 1935. The work remained so personal to him he kept it private until 1980, when he was 88. Alexander led a gentle and reflective performance that failed to reveal the deep meanings it must have had for the composer.
Emphasizing nostalgia, the Chorale also sang five of Copland's "Old American Songs" accompanied by pianist Lori Loftus.
The Pacific Chorale Children's Chorus, led by Mary Ester Blakley and accompanied by Jill Carter, sang two pieces sweetly--Rene Clausen's Psalm 100 and Donald Patriquin's play song, "J'entends le Moulin." Led by Alexander, the kids also sang Copland's "Simple Gifts" and "I Bought Me a Cat."