It may have been St. Patrick's Day, but Robert Duerr stayed on the East side of the Irish Sea Monday night, as he led the Pasadena Chamber Orchestra and Chorus in a British program at Ambassador Auditorium.
He built the program on music by a pair of composers from Tudor and Restoration England, and by three modern ones whose aesthetic was very much akin to that of the earlier masters. The chorus opened, a cappella, with a stirring account of Tallis' polyphonic motet, "Spem in Alium nunquam habui," in which the 40 independent voices are divided into eight choirs.
Clarity, taste and poise marked Duerr's reading of Purcell's festival anthem, "My Heart is Inditing." Though technically faultless and at all times unusually sensitive, the singers did not always project over the orchestra sufficiently.
Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Flos Campi" contains less of the Britishness that abounds in most of his music, but his 1925 work for solo viola, wordless chorus and orchestra is very much the product of one firmly rooted in the English tradition. Violist Donald McInnes rendered the solo line eloquently, producing a warm and radiant sound, and Duerr shaped the orchestral and choral lines with equal expressivity.
Michael Tippett, perhaps the most capable of England's living composers, has always kept an eye toward the past, and his "Divertimento on Sellinger's Round" quotes from Byrd, Purcell and others. Duerr led the orchestra in a reading full of wit, charm, and, at times, energetic bustle.
Probably no English composer succeeded in so thoroughly embracing his musical heritage while creating music entirely fresh and original as did Benjamin Britten. The Pasadena forces brought subtlety, sparkle and youthful vigor to a perfectly meshed reading of Britten's ebullient and delightfully evocative "Rejoice in the Lamb."