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Music review: Grant Gershon, L.A. Master Chorale at Disney Hall

November 14, 2011 |  2:00 pm

Chorale2 by Ken Hively

It would be tempting to say that having two contemporary works anchoring the Los Angeles Master Chorale concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall Sunday night was a bold bit of chance-taking by Grant Gershon. 

But then, maybe not. 

David Lang’s “The Little Match Girl Passion” has caught on almost everywhere since winning the 2008 Pulitzer Prize; Jacaranda presented the West Coast premiere of the four-voice version in January; the Pacific Chorale did the choral version in April; and performances proliferate on YouTube.

James Newton, whose Mass received its U.S. premiere Sunday, is a welcome regular presence with the Master Chorale. (A recording of the four-voice version with Gershon and the concert’s vocal soloists was released in March.)

Both works are vertical choral expansions of intimate pieces with roots in the fountainhead, J.S. Bach, yet they completely part ways from there. Newton’s Mass is a seriously rigorous listen with some tumbling interplay reminiscent of late Stravinsky, betraying Newton’s jazz pursuits only in fleeting fragments like a Mingus-like bass passage in the Gloria or some free-jazz percussion and bass underpinning in the Sanctus.

Lang, meanwhile, uses deliberately simple musical language in “Match Girl,” the voices commenting on the morality tale as in a Bach passion. The choral version is not as stark as the original; it softens the blows, but you are still drawn into the piece’s bleak, but thankfully not unbearably pathetic, atmosphere, with supertitles helpfully supplementing the rich Master Chorale vocal blend so that you could savor the overlapping repetitions.       

So it would be more pertinent to say that this concert was a natural followup to some of the progressive things that Gershon has been involved with. And the choice of prefaces for each work -– two Bach motets -– was inspired, especially the joyous, vocally torturous roller coaster, “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied.” 


David Lang's divine pursuit: 'The Little Match Girl Passion'

Music review: Jacaranda blooms in winter

 -– Richard S. Ginell

Photo: Music Director Grant Gershon conducts the Los Angeles Master Chorale in an expanded choral version of David Lang's Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Little Match Girl Passion” at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Credit: Ken Hively