At relocated venue, Cathedral’s Sept. 11 concert is a handsome, heartfelt show

September 11, 2011

As commemorative concerts go, the Washington National Cathedral’s Sept. 11-themed “A Concert to Honor” on Friday night was a handsomely stage-managed package.

Covered by a battery of television cameras, the evening alternated between speeches by the likes of CIA Director David H. Petraeus and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and affecting works by Copland, Tippett and Barber. The music was played by the Marine Chamber Orchestra and sung by the combined forces of the Cathedral Choir and the U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters, all under the sensitive baton of Michael J. Colburn.

Capping the program was a flowing and heartfelt rendition of Brahms’s German Requiem — sung, sensibly in this context, in English — that featured solid solo work by soprano Christine Brandes and bass-baritone Eric Owens. It was accompanied by a moving video collage, projected onto an array of large screens, that interwove footage of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the deployment of troops to Afghanistan and Iraq and their tearful homecomings, striking images of the National Cathedral, and a live feed of the performance.

In fact, the only thing missing was the cathedral itself, which has been temporarily closed due to earthquake damage and the subsequent collapse of an on-site construction crane. An evocatively lit Kennedy Center Concert Hall proved an adequate stand-in for the event, though the decision to have the concert miked robbed listeners of a rare opportunity to hear the Cathedral Choir — which sang with great beauty and transparency of tone — in a clearer and more immediate acoustic than the cathedral affords. Exciting as the booming volume was, the bloat and glassiness of the electronically enhanced sound did no one (Brahms in particular) any favors.

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