Such faith Daniel had in his God. This biblical figure endured persecution, being thrown into fiery furnaces and being served up as prophet du jour for a pack of growling, mangy lions. Unlike King Darius, the hungry lions didn't have a bone to pick with Daniel (and fortunately couldn't), but all received their just deserts in the end.
Such faith the congregation of Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church has shown in composer William T. Flynn. In writing a work commissioned in celebration of the church's diamond jubilee to be performed by church members, Flynn risked a burnt offering. Happily, from the first thundering tympani to the last swelling strains of the hymn to Him, "Now We Thank We All Our God," this sacred play in music continuously enchants, and often overwhelms one with the sheer effort and love brought to the performances.
The work, of course, is called "Daniel," and despite liberties with the original book (the libretto, by Jane Flynn, follows the outline of a 12th-century play, "Danielis Ludus," written for medieval Christmases but revised for year-round performance), the message of faith and the vivid imagery of the age-old conflict of good and evil burst through despite the demands of the music on the singers and instrumentalists.
The moments of transcendental beauty were undercut by an orchestra and cast at cross purposes with each other. Conductor Kenneth Lowenberg seemingly could not control the cacophony of the ensemble.
The imaginative writing, referring to traditions from different periods of history (especially those of the church) employed various instruments specifically with certain characters: the kings and princes are represented by organ and percussion, the queen and young prince by violins, Daniel by the viola and cello and the comic figure Habacuc by the double bass. The characters with similar dramatic roles are also unified by melodic or rhythmic structures in the music.
Tenor Gene Tucker stunned with his affecting performance in the title role. His pleasant voice, while lacking fullness, possessed the necessary conviction and persuasiveness intended by the composer. Richard Dirksen, as both Kings Belshazzar and Darius, provided fine support. The lions--Alexandra Birch, Sally Milius, Marya Howell, Katie Walker and Hannah Weil--were eerie and properly fierce.
The performance repeats tonight at the church.