Times Music Writer

Highly successful for more than a decade as recording artists, the duo of mezzo-soprano Joan Morris and pianist William Bolcom finally brought their act to Southern California on Sunday night. As the second installment in Pops Series "A" at Ambassador Auditorium, the husband-and-wife team offered a program of songs from the Gershwin era.

In smoothness of execution, accessibility of style and canny, nonchallenging programming, this agenda, consisting of 22 songs by Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Rodgers and others, plus a short group of piano solos, had to please. Its pacing and contrasts had been thought through. Its keys did not clash. It balanced songs of pensiveness, bubble, torch and amusement smartly.

Yet it seldom touched. Morris seems to be an interpreter of clever personality who sometimes brings out the best in well-written lyrics, but she achieves only infrequently that depth of feeling or urgency of expression that mark superior performances either in the cabaret or the recital hall. And her voice lacks both volupte, on the one hand, or brass, on the other. What remains--sometimes aided by a microphone, sometimes not, and then pallid and unprojecting--is not distinctive.

Bolcom plays the piano with an admirable insouciance and neat authority, qualities sometimes weakened by his habit of letting tempos become precipitous; indeed, some of the unsettled character in Morris' singing can in moments be traced to Bolcom's rhythmic looseness.

Nevertheless, there were on Sunday a number of memorable moments: the duo's performances of both "Isn't It a Pity" and "The Lorelei," from "Pardon My English"; of "Just Another Rhumba," and, for a first encore, "Our Love Is Here to Stay."

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