Bryn Terfel: "Homeward Bound"
Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square, Wilberg. Texts and translations. Deutsche Grammophon 0289 479 1073 2
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Bryn Terfel join forces to offer up a rousing collection of folk hymns and other songs of a spiritual bent.
In John Hughes's "Cwm Rhondda" (Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah), Terfel introduces the text in Welsh, and the choir responds with the translation. Karl Jenkins offers "Ave verum corpus," a duet for Terfel and the opulent mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, while Paul Mealor's triadic "Faith's Call" is a fervent homage to the mission of the choir's nomadic ancestors. Terfel's hale, resonant bass-baritone is at its most electrifying at the bottom of his range, as when he dips down in the simple melody of the title track. Even expansive arrangements that could have misfired, such as George David Weiss's "What a Wonderful World" and "Shenandoah," manage to be inspirational without being overdone. The arrangement of "When the Saints Go Marching In" sounds like the lovechild of Guys and Dolls and On the Town, but it's great cheesy fun. It precedes a delicate rendering of "Home on the Range," which doesn't quite succeed in reinventing itself as a concert ballad, despite or perhaps because of the seriousness with which Terfel infuses it.
Terfel is joined by the Norwegian crossover singer Sissel for "Shall We Gather at the River" and the lovely "Give Me My Song," by Benny Andersson of ABBA. Sissel, who has appeared in concert with the choir, has a clear, pop-edged soprano that balances Terfel's voice without attempting to match it in amplitude. Her wistful, reflective timbre elevates both songs, and in Andersson's especially, she sounds like an angel. "Libera me," from Fauré's Requiem, and "Lascia ch'io pianga," from Handel's Rinaldo, are the only classical inclusions, and they fit right in, although the choir's diction is a little too sturdily American in both. The choir primarily provides hushed backup vocals but gets several opportunities to take center stage in some of the more traditional spirituals, including a terrific, rhythmic "Bound for the Promised Land" and its signature "Battle Hymn of the Republic," the best moment of which is the pristinely articulated a cappella section. In general, one's receptiveness to this recording will likely be predicated on one's inclination to be moved by religious imprecations; more secular listeners may find the presentation overly earnest.
JOANNE SYDNEY LESSNER
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