Along with the musical finery heard from the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles at UC Irvine's Barclay Theatre Wednesay night, a subtext of compassion and healing for those with HIV/AIDS was never far from the surface. The estimable 170-member group, led with fervor and focus by John Bailey, filled two wedge-shaped risers on stage, bedecked in black tie and red ribbons.
The program itself had focus problems, however. Things began sturdily enough, with Lou Harrison's "A Joyous Procession," at once ceremonial and ethereal. Also in the first half were Copland's swirling, anthemic "The Promise of Living," sung heartily by soprano Carlton E. Lowe, and the agreeable pop strains of Billy Joel's "And So It Goes."
Ostensibly, the concert's centerpiece was "When We No Longer Touch," with music by Kristofer Anthony and text by Peter Mc-Williams. For his cantata, Anthony, who died in 1992, drew on an unsettled mixed musical vocabulary from classical tradition, the church (touches of Latin liturgical music) and the Broadway pits.
Dancers, choreographed by Fred Strickler, enacted the stages of love--from conflict to cavorting. Soprano Frances Young delivered lines with a bold, controlled voice, but the words and notes themselves were often too blatant, too far from poetry to register very deeply.
As it turned out, the real highlight of the concert was "Love Alone," by composer Ned Rorem, based on a poignant poem of grief and impending loss by Paul Monette--the Los Angeles-based author who died of AIDS complications in February and to whom the concert was dedicated. Here, the chorus outlined a fittingly restless, irregularly phrased melodic line, over clenched and tolling piano chords, to expressive ends.
As an encore, the chorus delivered an increasingly triumphant reading of "We Shall Overcome." The concert will be performed again Sunday at the Alex Theater in Glendale.