'Te Deum' struggles with weight of its complexity

April 15, 1997|By David Donovan | David Donovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As advertised, the newly orchestrated version of Robert Twynham's "Te Deum" arrived Sunday evening at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen with everything but the kitchen sink.

This giant multi-movement setting had marching handbell processions, antiphonal choirs, brass, organs and television monitors everywhere to keep the widely separated musicians together.

At first, some mighty impressive sounds came from all corners of the cathedral.

Unfortunately, the inspiration did not hold up, and only about half of Twynham's "Te Deum" took flight.

Twynham, music director of the cathedral, knows its properties like the back of his hand. The opening movements of his work perfectly took advantage of the immense space and the antiphonal opportunities.

The handbell procession of the first movement, paired with Twynham's broad chords, immediately evoked a sense of grandeur and majesty.

The second movement brought forth the antiphonal brass, and the music reminded this listener of the powerful Berlioz "Te Deum."

Problems started creeping in by the third movement. A radiant tenor solo was delivered over the microphone system supplied to the pulpit. This microphone is probably fine for delivering a sermon, but the soaring tenor voice kept breaking up, sounding like a bad AM radio.

A rushed rehearsal schedule may have contributed to the performance's problems. The antiphonal brass players were changing sides of the hall every five minutes. Amid the comings and goings, the ensemble even had to restart one movement.

One unwritten rule of music is that you should never confuse your brass players. A missed entrance by an unobtrusive viola is one thing, but you can't sneak in a mistake by trumpets and trombones.

The instrumental interludes were interesting meditations, but the reverberant acoustics swallowed up any intended nuances. The handbell interlude was visually interesting but musically unconvincing.

Particularly lovely were soprano Paula McCabe's solos. Her projection and beauty of tone was most impressive. This listener wished that the composer had given more music to her, as she truly thrives in this hall.

The last six movements did not live up to the potential of the first two. Many of them seemed interchangeable musically, with only the text being different.

The concluding handbell procession did bring the work full circle, but it was too little, too late, as this "Te Deum" overstayed its welcome.

The Mozart "Great" Mass in C minor, which opened the program, simply was crushed beneath its own reverberation. Henry Lowe, director of music at the Church of the Redeemer, led the performance, cautiously moving through the music as if walking on eggshells. Nothing really bad happened, but nothing really caught wing, either.

The quartet of vocalists didn't measure up to the operatic demands Mozart imposes. The chorus was steady, but contrapuntal sections were muddy and extremely heavy.

One bright spot was the lovely woodwind trio in the "Et incarnatus est." The phrasings of flutist Kristin Winter-Jones, oboist Vladimir Lande and bassoonist Holden McAleer worked beautifully together, and the musicians' interplay was exemplary.

The most tragic outcome of the tentative pace was how it made this musically rich score seem twice its normal length. Mozart can take many interpretations, but a lack of forward momentum robs this masterpiece of its heart and soul.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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