It was quite fitting that the Master Chorale of Orange County--performing in Santa Ana High School Auditorium on Sunday afternoon--should have dedicated its stirring and coherent account of Verdi's operatic Requiem to the seven astronauts who perished aboard the space shuttle Challenger last month.

The scope of the piece is large enough to encompass national sorrow and personal tragedy, and the chorus infused it with extraordinary brio and drama.

Maurice Allard, the conductor, obviously spent more than a few hours readying his large forces for the performance, but some of his interpretive choices, notably a few odd diminuendos and fussy tempo changes in the Dies Irae, guided the work uncomfortably close to self-parody. The smallish orchestra played fiercely, however, in a decidedly supporting role.

The soloists also followed Allard's every finger-crook, but with less-even results. Soprano Deborah Voigt projected through the massed sounds with ease and sculpted her phrasing in the Libera Me ravishingly. Tenor Jonathan Welch, possessor of a slight lyric voice, seemed out of his depth in such larger-than-life fare, but his Ingemisco was surprisingly assured.

Kenneth Cox's big, dark voice has no such limitations, and his rolling, incisive singing in the Mors Stupebit and the Confutatis Maledictus were noteworthy, but in ensemble passages he tended toward the woofy, overvocalizing basses often indulged in here.

Alice Baker's light mezzo-soprano was taxed cruelly in the fire-breathing spinto outbursts of the Liber Scriptus. Although she tried valiantly elsewhere, this kind of dramatic music is simply not for her.

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