Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" is one of the most passionately human of all works of religious inspiration. It is also a difficult work to perform and to assimilate, and it took ambition and confidence for the Paul Hill Chorale to choose it for its Easter concert yesterday afternoon at Kennedy Center. The chorale succeeded in recreating much of Beethoven's power, if seldom his depth; and that power was often quite enough.
There was undeniable strength of sound, augmented by members of the Howard University Chorale, from the opening words through the forceful blend with trombone and organ attachs at "Pater omnipotens " to the end. One could quibble with the artificially forced consonants, which together with sibilant whispers marred much of the musical texture; in the first Kyrie," the chorus' wind was as audible as its vowels, for example. Yet it is not often that such a large choral sound is heard, and moments like the staccato ff "Amen" were impressive indeed.
The afternoon's biggest surprise was perhaps the orchestra, with inspired violin phrasing reaching sublime heights in the Gloria. The quartet of soloists was not much more than able with one exception, Rose Taylor, whose rich mezzo is growing in beauty and weight.
Roger Wagner's conducting was logical and brisk, even if a pause for latecomers after the Kyrie and an indefensible intermission after the Credo did slow down the work's impetus