A nearly perfect performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Grammy award-winning "Requiem" highlighted the Andrew Lloyd Webber family concert Sunday night at the Kennedy Center. Drawing on the English cathedral tradition, the piece could have found no better exponents than the Paul Hill Chorale, with its astonishingly pure sound and flawless unisons. Tenor Gene Tucker sang with warmth and appreciation for the cathedral tradition, and boy soprano Todd Caruso won the audience's heart with remarkably beautiful singing and considerable poise, particularly in a "Pie Jesu" duet with soprano Wendy Hill as well as in the work's final moments when he sang through a crashing, dissonant interruption from the organ. The Richmond Symphony conducted by Paul Hill and playing well throughout its Kennedy Center debut, provided especially fine sound from the brass section.
In sharp contrast, Webber's "Variations" for cello and orchestra, taking as its theme the famous Paganini melody used by Liszt and other great composers, proved a long, rather shapeless patchwork of different musical styles and ideas. And although cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, the composer's brother, played with skill and a full, pleasing tone -- particularly in a lovely piano-cello duet -- the piece lacked both expressive potential and technical challenges for the soloist.
The program began with the brief tone poem "Aurora" by William Lloyd Webber, Andrew's father, whose death in 1982 was the major inspiration for the "Requiem."