While the chorus sang, the band had the night off. At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Saturday evening, the Los Angeles Master Chorale dispensed with its companion orchestra, Sinfonia, to present a largely a cappella program.
Important shorter works, principally from the 19th and 20th centuries, comprised the agenda, representing, in conductor John Currie's words, the "red meat" of the literature.
Certainly meaty are the three Bruckner motets that opened the program. Currie led crisp, clear, energetic readings, rich in dynamic contrasts, and coaxed from his singers a voluminous sound with no loss of clarity. But Currie has not molded the 130-voice ensemble into a choir in which voices truly blend, and the soprano section (the largest) unreasonably dominated.
The conductor's bright sound worked very well in Handel's "Zadok the Priest." Samuel John Swartz played the organ part stylishly, and the choir's vigor, buoyancy and sense of motion brought the evening to a heroic conclusion.
In between, works of Schoenberg, Brahms and Verdi experienced qualified success. Though in general the Verdi pieces enjoyed polished readings, motets by Brahms and Schoenberg suffered from a lack of direction. In one of the Brahms motets, intermittent rhythmic imprecision and apparent word-insecurity sometimes obfuscated the texts. The choir mastered the difficult chromaticism of the two Schoenberg works, but measures and measures of loud singing went by with little feeling of line or phrase.
In Tallis' "Spem in alium" (the earliest work on the program), the 40 independent voices blended handsomely while allowing each contrapuntal line to emerge, thus creating a striking antiphonal effect. The most recent work, Penderecki's "Stabat Mater," received a strong, well-shaped, exciting performance.
Eloquently rendered folk songs completed the proceedings.