"I want you to go away tonight feeling like a child who's just sampled all the flavors at Baskin-Robbins," tenor Gene Tucker promised the audience at the Washington Cathedral Summer Festival last night.
True to his word, Tucker explored God's word as interpreted by earthly poets and composers from the 17th century to the present. Tucker's recipe for his program of little-known sacred music was four generous helpings each of J.S. Bach and Franz Schubert, topped with pinches of Henry Purcell, a dash of Leo Sowerby and Flor Peeters, and a garnish of Benjamin Britten.
Tucker sings in a natural, unaffected style. His controlled tenor is agile and graceful, but not too delicate. Tucker divided his program into five sections, each a noteworthy sampler of musical thought from the last three centuries. The selections expressed a wide range of religious feeling, but there was a numbing sameness to much of Tucker's performance.
There were a few dusty gems exhumed, most notably Schubert's "Litanei" and "Die Allmacht," in which Tucker was outstanding. Tucker took a scholarly approach to most of his program, however, opting for technically correct singing and a reverential attitude over emotional involvement.
Perhaps it was the effect of the stupefying heat and humidity of the cathedral, but the performance moved at a sluggish pace. While faithful, solid interpretations of sacred music has its merits, grandeur and conviction are also indispensable in invoking mystical, religious feeling.
Tucker excelled in his readings of modern works. Although he faltered in Sowerby's "Thou Art My Strength," Peeters' "Pater Noster"--the Lord's Prayer musically expressed--and Britten's masterpiece "Canticle I," were erudite and expressive. Tucker drew out the syllables, slowly savoring each one before spitting it out. Tucker has an intuitive understanding and feeling for modern composers.
Douglas Major accompanied Tucker on both organ and piano. Major was unobtrusive and sympathetic to the vocalist; Britten's "Canticle" showcased the accompanist's keyboard artistry.