Beginning its 49th season Sunday afternoon at Washington National Cathedral, the Cathedral Choral Society performed two religious works -- Maurice Durufle's Requiem and Sergey Taneyev's "John of Damascus" -- and presented the world premiere of Daniel E. Gawthrop's "Four Seasonal Metaphors."
Under the careful direction of J. Reilly Lewis, the 20th-century Requiem softly unfolded, built to rich climactic moments, and receded into peaceful tranquility. The chorus gently and fluidly sang a cappella parts, but also generated intensity when it sang against the almost deafening orchestral backdrop of "Domine Jesu" and "Libera me" passages.
In the 19th-century cantata "John of Damascus" (focused on the life of the 8th-century saint), the chorus sang the original Russian text and achieved a beautifully balanced blend. The orchestra, including a lush string section, played the instrumental prologue with great feeling but unfortunately proceeded to overwhelm the chorus at times.
Gawthrop's new choral work musically evoked the ebb and flow of the seasons through a rich orchestral palette and melodic choral parts. With excellent diction and sensitive phrasing, the chorus sang a vividly descriptive text, written by a poet who, according to the program, "wished to remain anonymous." Adding to the impressionistic splashes of sound were talented soloists Frances Schopick and Edward Crafts.