Founded by the late Roger Wagner in 1965, the Master Chorale has enjoyed a dual career as a concert ensemble and as a frequent participant in film scoring. It was proper, then, for conductor Grant Gershon and his ensemble to end their current season, and their tenure at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, with a program of film music to celebrate the more glamorous of its two hats. It didn’t make for much of a concert, but a good time was apparently had by most.
Scoring for films is a fragile and subtle art. Subject its products to the kind of orchestration imposed by veteran scorer J.A.C. Redford for this occasion — everything for full symphony orchestra, soloists and a chorus numbering 100-plus — and the result is likely to be a turgid sameness, a thick amalgam that may preserve the tunes of a score but buries any subtleties under a blanket of, say, Elgar leavened with Mahler giving way to Brahms and to an all-purpose “Alleluia.” At the evening’s dreariest moment, full chorus and orchestra landed with both brogans on one of the fragile folk tunes from the Coen brothers’ enchanting “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” One had to consult the printed program, and not always successfully, to determine where one piece left off and another began.
Sure, the evening had its attractions. It was rewarding, you might say, to come across a large chunk of James Horner’s “Titanic” score, complete with Celtic pipes and whistle but with nary a smidge of its gooey love song. A chorus from John Williams’ “Amistad” welled up forcefully into a powerful lament. Composer Jeremy Soule, not a movie guy at all but a purveyor of music for videogames, contributed an intense choral setting of a Victor Hugo poem. Music from William Walton’s landmark score for “Henry V” began the program; an episode from Patrick Doyle’s later score for the same play ended it. Walton won.
The concert marked the end of the Master Chorale’s 39 years at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; next season they join the Philharmonic across the street at Disney Concert Hall. As an encore the chorus sang an “Alleluia” setting by its founder, Roger Wagner. Then the hall filled up with blue-and-white streamers, after which some of the audience trooped upstairs for an expensive gala dinner.