Bethesda United Methodist Church choir shines in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Requiem’

April 11, 2011

Few church choirs can realistically claim to have the best singers inside the Beltway. Bethesda United Methodist Church may, however, have the most ambitious. Sunday evening, the church’s 38 choristers took on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Requiem,” a major work for orchestra, soloists and a highly trained, sizable choir. Under the direction of David A. Fanning, his musicians not only emerged largely unscathed but also turned in some very creditable moments.

It does not hurt to have a professional orchestra on hand, some top-flight soloists and a director with a superlative understanding of the human voice and, especially, orchestra. Fanning’s sensibility of tempos and his communication with instrumentalists and singers alike were foundational for success.

Though this Protestant choir occasionally chopped through the mystery of the syllabically stressed Latin text, their “Hosanna” section took on elements of exuberant dance and carried well over the disproportionately sized orchestra. The soprano’s marcato “Libera me” passages were handled with precision and solid intonation. All in all, this choir was prepared to its limit, and despite Lloyd Webber’s assertion that his “Requiem” is not a religious piece as such, these singers seemed to be on something of a mission.

Gregory Turay’s innately glorious tenor solos brought to mind Jussi Bjorling, and the Puccini-like duet passages with emerging soprano Melissa Jean Chavez begged for a future pairing as Rodolfo and Mimi.

From Daniel Jacob Zika’s opening treble solo (his first) to his repetitively closing “perpetua,” Bethesda UMC’s prodigious undertaking should serve as a laudable alternative for mid-size churches that feel compelled to exchange their musical birthright for sound boards, PowerPoint and a piano bar.

— Alfred Thigpen

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