The Pacific Chorale offered a mostly soothing, acoustically satisfying program spanning nearly a century and a half of High Renaissance and early Baroque music Saturday to open the choral group's 40th season, its 36th under artistic director John Alexander.
As much of the music was written for the Basilica San Marco in Venice, Italy, Alexander could have taken more advantage of the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall's vaunted acoustics.
True, the hall is no San Marco, a cathedral with second-to-none acoustics. But perhaps Alexander's aim was to give only a hint of the San Marco sound via the program's 13 works by seven Italian composers.
The strongest hint came at the beginning, when he stationed brass in the box circle seats, standing in for two of the basilica's corners, for Giovanni Gabrieli's first "Jubilate Deo," resulting in true antiphonal sound. The nearly 160-strong chorale demonstrated its clarity and rhythmic precision in bringing this 1597 motet to vivid life.
Alas, there were no further attempts at surround sound -- not even for Gabrieli's "In ecclesiis," which closed the nearly 2 1/2 -hour concert. Scored for two groups each of singers and instrumentalists for the four corners of the Basilica San Marco and a continuo of keyboard and bass instruments in the middle, this 1615 motet would have been a natural for stationing brass (and some singers) all over the hall. Instead, the motet was presented with everyone onstage, all the instrumentalists in the middle. The effect was thus somewhat muted and even muddled antiphonally.
Still, this did not deter the chorale and its 24-voice professional chamber offshoot, the John Alexander Singers, from some of their most vibrant singing of the night. Their most haunting occurred with Antonio Lotti's "Crucifixus" and Carlo Gesualdo's "O vos omnes," both chromatically laden motets.
The program provided a healthy mix ranging from a cappella -- the JA Singers offering quiet dignity and antiphonal clarity in Palestrina's "Stabat Mater" -- to all-instrumental, with Pacific Symphony members giving distinguished accounts of Corelli's Trio Sonata in G, Opus 2, No. 12, led by concertmaster Raymond Kobler, and Gabrieli's "Canzon septimi toni No. 2," led by principal trumpet Barry Perkins.
Alexander led with his usual enthusiasm and attention to detail. Harpsichordist Lori Loftus and organist David Clemensen did superb work providing continuo all night.