MUSIC REVIEWS : PACIFIC CHAMBER GROUP IN COSTA MESA

It is a pleasant if windowless room on the north side of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, aptly nicknamed Black Box Theatre, officially dubbed Founder's Hall. Built to the dimensions of the full stage at Segerstrom Hall, and with a below-ceiling walkway all around its walls, it is the main rehearsal hall for Segerstrom.

In this setting, during the first season of concerts at the center, a few performances--mostly for young people--have been given. But one of the first formal concerts in the room took place Monday night, when the Pacific Symphony Chamber Players closed its season with a program of music by Brahms, Schubert and Bach.

The dry acoustical character of the little hall--it can seat 330 listeners, or stand 500--may be useful and efficient for rehearsals. For performances--the serious and committed kinds of music-making heard Monday certainly deserve that description--such dryness of sound is less cherishable.

Maurita Phillips Thornburgh, introduced by conductor Keith Clark to the audience before this concert as a longtime friend and guest artist with the Pacific Symphony in its first decade, brought her customary vocal solidity, musical authority and flexible technique to Schubert's "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen" and Bach's Cantata 51, "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen."

But the room gave the voice no chance to bloom, the artistry no sympathetic ambiance in which to shine. In the cantata, the six assisting players (trumpeter Anthony Plog, violinists Robert Peterson and Charles Everett, violist Charles Adams, cellist Armen Ksadjikian and harpsichordist Sandra Matthews), playing at normal, even discreet, dynamic levels, sometimes swamped the singer, whose own resonance seemed to evaporate at mid-range.

Thornburgh was heard more clearly in Schubert's final masterpiece, wherein clarinetist James Kanter and pianist Matthews matched her sensitivity to tone color, word-point and musical concentration, item for item. Charming is too weak a word to describe their articulate performance, yet, in a panorama of noble lightness, telling contrasts and deep feelings, charm was the main ingredient.

To open the program, Kanter and Matthews brought stoic Brahmsian rhetoric and felicitous detailing to the F-minor Sonata, Opus 120, No. 1.

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