With hits to his credit like "Phantom of the Opera," "Cats," "Evita" and "Jesus Christ, Superstar," Andrew Lloyd Webber has probably sold more tickets than anyone else in the history of Broadway.
But a decade ago, Mr. Lloyd Webber decided to set aside being a show-biz tunesmith for a time. Saddened by both the death of his father and by murderous events in Cambodia, he chose to broaden his artistic horizons and compose a Requiem, a musical setting of the Roman Catholic liturgy for the burial of dead.
Local audiences will have the opportunity to hear Mr. Lloyd Webber's Requiem tomorrow when conductor Ernest Green and his Annapolis Chorale bring the work to the Maryland Hall stage. Soprano Priscilla Gale, tenor Paul McIlvaine and a young singer, Elizabeth Winter of Broadneck High School, will serve as soloists.
Mr. Green has paired the Requiem with the ever-popular "Rhapsody in Blue" of George Gershwin, another composer whose prodigious talent propelled him out of the theater and into the concert hall. Pianist Stef Scaggiari will solo in the "Rhapsody," which will be heard in the original Paul Whiteman jazz band format.
This is Ernest Green's second go-round with Mr. Lloyd Webber's Requiem -- he conducted it last season with the Jefferson Symphony of New Orleans -- and the conductor clearly relishes both its pitfalls and potential.
"The first time I looked at the score," he says, "I was stunned.
"The polyrhythmic and polytonal demands placed on the chorus are unbelievable. We'll definitely have to keep our wits about us. Still, it's a blast to sing!"
This Requiem was conceived as high drama.
The "Dies Irae" (Day of Wrath) and "Juste Judex Ultionis" (The Just Judge of Vengeance) sequences quiver with intensity and contain more than a few tips of the cap in the direction of Giuseppe Verdi whose own hair-raising Requiem betrays the touch of one who also knew his way around the dramatic stage.
Indeed, Mr. Lloyd Webber's is an eclectic work. The careful listener will note allusions not only to Verdi, but to Orff's "Carmina Burana," the sublime "Humming Chorus" from
Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" and Stravinsky's 1948 Mass. In the celebratory "Hosanna," the composer even cites himself. Tell me there isn't a Jellicle Cat or two dancing about in those rockin' rhythms!
Is the Lloyd Webber Requiem a tour-de-force from start to finish? No.
At times, it is a bumpy ride through transitions that don't work and interludes that fairly beg for additional development.
But, at its best, it is a welcome addition to the repertory. The "Pie Jesu" is itself worth the price of a ticket. And I was deeply touched by the "Ingemisco," which seems to sum up the entire work. All at once it's hummable Broadway, dramatic Verdi, and a glimpse into the non-glitzy soul of a composer whose glitz has been knocking 'em dead on Broadway for as long as anyone can remember.
The Annapolis Chorale will perform Saturday evening at 8 p.m. at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. For ticket information, call 263-1906.