Leonard Bernstein wrote his arresting, teasingly bluesy "Chichester Psalms" with a cathedral performance in mind. But, as the National Philharmonic Chorale demonstrated at National Presbyterian Church on Sunday, the subtle colorations in his writing can get lost in such an ample space, unless Herculean efforts are made to clarify articulation and inner balances. Some incisive string figures and spiky jolts of percussion registered clearly. But quieter choral part-writing vanished into the ether, and larger concerted passages clouded into a wash of sound. Joshua Rosenberg's pleasing boy alto sounded a bit compromised by the summer allergy season.
Vaughan Williams's "Dona Nobis Pacem" -- no less inventive or seductively chromatic than the Bernstein -- emerged with greater clarity, thanks to the composer's sparer, more anthemlike choral writing. Stan Engebretson conducted an eloquent reading, though the powerful Walt Whitman text was another acoustic casualty. Christopheren Nomura's hearty, sweetly lyrical bass and soprano Rosa Lamoreaux's familiar crystalline tone and scintillating vibrato (which sent the requisite chills down the spine at key moments) sounded perfectly idiomatic in their parts.
The Chorale took a breather during Lamoreaux's solo turn in Barber's "Knoxville: Summer of 1915." Unfortunately, it proved a temperamental mismatch between full-hearted music and coolly poised singer. Perky and chastely phrased to a fault, Lamoreaux's performance missed completely the aching nostalgia that makes this piece so special. As pure singing goes, however, it was undeniably lovely.
-- Joe Banno