Washington has a new archbishop, and the Catholic University of America Chorus and Orchestra made beautiful music in his honor last night at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. His Excellency James A. Hickey seemed pleased by the end, and with good reason. The human voice traditionally has been happy in cathedrals, and the CUA chorus was in particularly good shape inside this rainbow of marble and mosaic.
Haydn's "Missa Brevis" was the hit of the evening. This brief and beautiful gem was ravishingly sung, particularly in the bouncy Credo section, which is so like that of the more familiar "Mass in Time of War." It was also a personal triumph for soprano Helen Bickers, whose Benedictus solo revealed a promising instrument already used intelligently and with a captivating vibrancy in the upper reaches.
While the mass used the barest instrumental accompaniment, the rest of the program featured the Catholic University Orchestra. The results were somewhat varied.
In Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, conductor Robert Ricks took little account of either the acoustics of the cathedral or the subtleties of the great composer's pastoral dream. It was not a case of merely rushing the phrases, but of rushing the silence, too. This performance was short of breath. Still, the talent of the students came through. In spite of some underpitched violas and an endearing use of portamento by about half the violins, the playing was well schooled, with a particularly gorgeous clarinet solo in the second movement.
The concert, the fifth annual by the CUA forces at St. Matthew's, also included "Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral" from Wagner's "Lohengrin," and Dvorak's "Te Deum."