Works old and new stir American pride

Special to The Times

More than 100 years and a gulf of history separated the two big-thinking American works on Pacific Chorale conductor John Alexander's agenda at Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall on Saturday night.

First, he gave the West Coast premiere -- and only the second performance anywhere -- of a recent piece by David Del Tredici, whom some call a "conservative." Then he reached deep into the dusty archives for a work that was wildly popular a century ago -- and discarded as hopelessly outdated since.

If "conservative" means being cautious, though, that shouldn't apply to Del Tredici, who always pushes his enthusiasms to the extreme.

He was a passionate serialist in his youth, but once "Alice in Wonderland" monopolized his imagination, he turned out one opulently orchestrated, gleefully tonal extravaganza after another.

Next, he became, in his own words, a "militant 'out' gay composer." And when the terrorists struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, not far from Del Tredici's home, he suddenly embraced patriotism.

Which brings us to "Paul Revere's Ride," a noisy, propulsive, flag-waving choral setting of the famous Longfellow poem in which Del Tredici pulls out the stops in a manner reminiscent of the "Alice" pieces.

Again, Del Tredici's trademark wind machine gusts away while his trademark siren sends a chill down the spine, evoking 9/11. Again, he fronts his massive ensemble with an amplified soprano, featuring particularly cruel writing way up high, which brave Lori Stinson coped with as best she could. Toward the end, he inserts a fugue where "Rule Brittania" jousts with "Yankee Doodle" -- and loses, of course. Alexander, the Pacific Chorale and Symphony handled all of this with relative restraint; one could imagine that the piece could have received more pizazz, but not much more.

Once the toast of America, Horatio Parker became a non-person after World War I. No one, not even Parker experts, could recall when his "Hora Novissima" -- once played more often than Handel's "Messiah" -- was last performed.

The reason for this neglect was not hard to hear, for Parker was an accommodator, refusing to take sides in the big artistic controversies of his time, making room for dignified Brahms and the chromaticisms of Wagner. But when you think ideologically, you can miss good things, and this hour-plus oratorio has plenty of them -- good tunes and a sturdy, affirmative grandeur amid some Victorian sweetness.

Given that much of today's concert life remains tied to things written more than a century ago anyway, Parker's piece is as revivable as several others by the usual household names.

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