Those in search of musical exotica need have looked no further than the Seoul Ladies Singers performing "The Old Chisolm Trail" Sunday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
While parts of this concert by the visiting 24-member choir (presented by the Los Angeles Master Chorale) bordered on the quaint, it mostly hovered at a heavenly level. The imaginative program ran a wide gamut, from Renaissance madrigal to Korean modernism, and unearthed something of a find with Andre Caplet's 1924 "Messe a Trois Voix."
As led by conductor Hak-Won Yoon (he founded the group in 1989), these singers combined charm with high polish, and their multicultural offerings were opportunities rather than duties. At any rate, their pure, ringing and shimmering sonority, never shrill, would have made a grocery list sound enchanting.
The 20-minute, a cappella Mass by Caplet, perhaps best remembered as Debussy's friend and collaborator, turned out to be a finely etched and compelling affair, a neo-Gregorian, Impressionistically harmonized little gem that deserves better than its obscurity. It also deserved better than the mysterious, consistent and loud talking--coming from parts unknown and silenced only later--which marred the otherwise well-drilled and elegant reading.
Three American folk songs and a spiritual--including the aforementioned "Chisolm" with Yoon in 10-gallon chapeau, and the glitzily arranged "Old Mac Doodle Had a Band" ("Old MacDonald" by any other name)--were rendered with fairly hokey, hoedown choreography, but emerged cute, not embarrassing. Four madrigals by Gastoldi, Lassus, Passereau and Morley were sung with rhythmic point and delicate nuance.
The second half was devoted to Korean modern and folk music. Here, as elsewhere, texts were sorely missing, and the apparent near-faint and very quick exit of one singer in "Kasiri" seemed almost a part of the emotional song to the textually clueless. Sung Kim Ryun Ryu Sanjo offered an exhilarating solo on the kayagum , a koto-like instrument.
Graceful team movements and formations, robust drumming and fluid singing propelled the folk music. Three costume changes kept the eyes entertained. The encores were "Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be?" sung in Korean and "The Lord's Prayer." A fun evening.