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Music review: Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Master Chorale

October 17, 2011 |  5:56 pm

On Sunday evening, the Los Angeles Master Chorale under Grant Gershon opened its 48th season at Walt Disney Concert Hall with a program exploring aspects of earthly life and eternity. Six a cappella works by living composers made up the concert's first half. They complemented and contrasted with Morten Lauridsen’s magisterial five-movement quasi-Requiem and celebration of light, “Lux Aeterna," performed after intermission.

The concert began with the U.S. premiere of Thomas Jennefelt’s “Music for a Big Church; for tranquility,” composed 20 years ago. This lovely, wordless sequence of mesmerizing vocal patterns sung in a “na-na” vocalise was given a shimmering minimalist vibe by Gershon and the choir. They also effortlessly illuminated the wide vocal palette of Eric Whitacre’s “Her Sacred Spirit Soars” for double chorus.

The choir’s associate conductor, Lesley Leighton, led Tarik O’Regan’s darker “Tal vez tenemos tiempo” (“Maybe we have time”), a resonant setting of Pablo Neruda’s poem. (Gershon conducted everything else.) Leighton, a longtime singer with the choir, then joined the chorale for “Heavenly Home: Three American Songs,” arranged with mastery by Shawn Kirchner. A veteran member of the ensemble’s tenor section, Kirchner uses American folk sources for “Unclouded Day,” “Angel Band” and “Hallelujah.” The choir conveyed the spirit of each with impressive phrasing and dynamic control.

The Master Chorale gave the premiere of Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna” in 1997, and the half-hour piece has since grown in stature. In a pre-concert talk, Lauridsen said the work represents “the triumph of light over darkness.” It’s also a luminously intimate and personal score. It was written while Lauridsen was the choir's composer-in-residence and partly reflects a healthy consolatory grief he felt after the loss of his mother. He turned those feelings into transporting art. While some might miss the orchestral version’s grandeur and scope, this arrangement for choir and organ, with Paul Meier at the console, brought greater prominence to the score’s hypnotic vocal blend and radiant spiritual beauty. The choir's purity of sound conjured a timeless quality. It felt like only five minutes had passed. During the concluding Agnus Dei, many members of the choir began to sway individually, apparently in their own meditative space.

The sold-out audience maintained total silence until well after the final Amen, and stood as Lauridsen came to the stage. There was a great roar when the choir stood.


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-- Rick Schultz

Above: Morten Lauridsen in a 2005 photo. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times