Conductor Paul Salamunovich picked two works of maximum--even bizarre--contrast to close the Los Angeles Master Chorale season Saturday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
He opened the program with Morten Lauridsen's exquisite "Les Chansons des Roses" and closed it with Carl Orff's hypergymnastic "Carmina Burana."
Settings of five late Rilke poems in French, the 17-minute Lauridsen work is almost a study in pianissimos, mercurial tempos and blended and ravishing colors. The composer calls for an a cappella chorus (here about 40 singers) until the final poem in which delicate piano arpeggios contribute to a folklike directness, simplicity and appeal. (Dwayne Condon was the pianist.)
Composer-in-residence with the Chorale since 1994, Lauridsen was on hand to take bows from an appreciative audience.
"Carmina" does not have to sound banal, stagnantly repetitive and seemingly endless, but Salamunovich's ponderous, textually indifferent and unimaginative approach made it seem that way for at least one listener, though the audience gave it a standing ovation. The work only came to life in the rousing tavern scene.
Once past some initial problems with pitch, support and distended phrasing, baritone Kevin McMillan proved an engaging and characterful soloist. Camille King sang with focused warmth, but her smallish soprano turned threadlike as it ascended. Both were submerged by the chorus and orchestra.
Alejandro Garri, born in Chile but now teaching privately in Los Angeles, easily and richly negotiated the treacherous high-lying line in the song of the roasted cygnet.
Using a sign language interpreter for at least some of its music has become a wonderful Chorale tradition. Jon Maher signed "Carmina" with crisp, suave and very musical phrasing.