Conductor John Alexander and the 140-member Pacific Chorale ventured a risky, demanding program with mixed results Saturday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.
Selections from Rachmaninoff's a cappella "Vespers" received virtually ideal performance: richly nourished harmonies securely anchored by deep pedal points, serenely floating vocal lines, luminous liturgical responses and, as appropriate, virile folk rhythms.
In solo duties, mezzo-soprano Janet Smith sang with fervent, luscious vocalism. But tenor William Smith proved a frail, expressionless contributor.
Texts were not provided to follow Rachmaninoff's specific word settings. And sadly, nothing else on the program came up to this performance level.
To be sure, Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms," which was accompanied by members of the Pacific Symphony, conveyed occasionally austere grandeur and built-up, even dynamics. But Alexander favored lyricism at the expense of drama and rhythmic bite. Again, no texts were given.
Nothing disappointed as much as Alexander's account of Stravinsky's "Les Noces," however. After a friendly, unnecessary talk, Alexander led a subdued, tentative sub-chorus of 54 members (singing in English) in a performance that lacked urgency, sharply etched rhythms and vitality.
Alexander's four-square conducting homogenized the composer's multiplicity of shifting accents and expressive contrasts.
His approach seemed more attuned to an ordinary, everyday catered affair, in fact, than to a primitive, almost ruthless community ritual around the deep wrenching of people's lives.
The mismatched quartet consisted of an opulent-sounding soprano Alison England, the two Smiths and the colorless bass Dennis Houser. Members of the Pacific Symphony provided timid accompaniment.