No mightier or more complex challenge awaits an ambitious choral organization than Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis," one of the peaks of our musical repertory. But, successfully met, the challenge reaps wondrous rewards.
Rewards there were when John Alexander led the Pacific Chorale, Pacific Symphony and four accomplished soloists in the massive, intricate and spirit-lifting work Sunday night in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Opening their 22nd consecutive season, Alexander & Co. did not deliver all the violence and brilliance in the score, but his solid conducting and their accurate performance indicated the scope of its universal messages.
The 150-voice chorale, tightly prepared and enthusiastic in its musical responses, sang tricky and rangy passages fearlessly, provided many contrasts stylishly and blended comfortably with the high-achieving Pacific Symphony, which proved to be in top form.
All the choral contributions lacked were the ultimate expressions of vehemence and tenderness, expressions which have something to do with spitting out consonants and everything to do with inspired leadership on the podium.
Still, the Beethovenian rhetoric proved operative throughout this sometimes under-driven performance. And wonderful moments materialized towards the end, in the orchestral interlude and subsequent violin solo--played aristocratically by concertmaster Endre Granat--in the Sanctus, and in the valedictory utterances of the solo quartet in the Agnus Dei, wherein they were handsomely seconded by chorale and orchestra.
That usually polished quartet--Jennifer Trost, Jacalyn Bower, James O'Neal and Michael Gallup--at times provided aggression where Alexander found repose, an unbalanced situation which remained a problem throughout this performance.