MUSIC REVIEW : Chanticleer Sings at New Shannon Center

TIMES MUSIC WRITER

A new auditorium, a new season and a second visit by Chanticleer, that splendid male chorus from San Francisco, added up to a gala Tuesday evening in Whittier.

The eight-man vocal ensemble--it usually tours with 12 members, as at its Christmas appearance in Long Beach last year--seemed the perfect opening attraction in the new, $10-million, 403-seat Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts at Whittier College.

The main theater (the center also includes a 72-seat studio theater) is a handsome, jewel-box of an auditorium with a small downstairs section overlooked by two tiers of surrounding balconies: a miniature opera house.

As heard from downstairs, Chanticleer displayed its musical strengths to advantage in the acoustically grateful auditorium, where its easy resonance and usually immaculate intonation rang out effortlessly. In addition, the group's vaunted command of many styles was proven once again, the singers' technical and performing resources joyfully exhibited.

This is an ensemble with a clear mission: to bring together the musical riches of centuries in eclectic but never mishmash programs. Stating the purpose is easier than accomplishing it, yet the program for this first performance of the group's 1990-91 season--with three new members making debuts--made sense both in the ear and on the page.

Joseph Jennings, Chanticleer's music director (who did not make an appearance) put together an agenda neatly paced and comfortingly varied. He adhered to the serious-half/light-half format performed by many, but without crassness. After a long intermission, there was no letdown.

What one listener savored most strongly were 20th-Century compositions by Francis Poulenc, Allen Shearer and Franz Biebl; a whole program of important music of our own time would no doubt reveal best the accomplishments of this gifted ensemble.

As it was, the most beauteous and intriguing sounds heard on this bare--and prosceniumless--stage Tuesday came in Poulenc's "Quatre petites prieres de St. Francois d'Assise," two pieces by Shearer and Biebl's "Ave Maria."

Yet the smile-invoking second half--including stylishly performed tunes by, among others, Stephen Foster, Vincent Youmans (uncredited in this program for "Without a Song") and Cole Porter--did not disappoint, either in performing fervor or handsome singing.

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