Two contrasting settings of the "Te Deum," a medieval hymn of praise, were heard at the choral/orchestral concert Friday afternoon in the spacious acoustic of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
George Frideric Handel's English version was a celebration of the military accomplishment of King George II at the battle of Dettingen (1743).
The requisite trumpets and drums feature prominently in the score, and excellent work was done by the two trumpet soloists, unnamed in the program insert.
Three substitutes replacing singers from the Westminster Choir originally slated to take the brief solos. The mezzo-soprano was out of her league substituting for Handel's countertenor. The tenor had so little to do, it's not worth mentioning.
The baritone sang well in the two short arias Handel gave "Mr. Abbott," a singer in King George's Chapel Royal who, judging from the score, had a light, high baritone. Our soloist, however, ventured to make an unnecessary crescendo and push his voice.
Joe Miller's Westminster Choir and members of the Charleston Orchestra Symphony Chorus sang admirably. The sopranos achieved a clear, beautiful focused tone, matching the brilliance of the trumpets.
The rest of the choir was fine, if a little too large an ensemble to delineate Handel's counterpoint in the swimmy acoustic. The orchestra played stylishly.
Estonian mystic Arvo Part's setting of the Latin text of the Te Deum obviously comes from a deep religious conviction. There are three choirs, a women's and a men's group (entirely Westminster singers), and a large mixed group here placed in the middle.
Strings, piano and some synthesized sounds accompany or make interludes.
All of this is a composition without any modulation, remaining fixed on the tonic of D, with some splashes of major key brightening the mainly minor tonality.
The choirs sang with great intensity, the whole paced carefully by Miller. Part ends his Te Deum with a repeat of the word "sanctus" ("holy") followed by several bars of silence notated in the score. Miller observed these fully, having won the attention of the capacity audience.
If one theme of this year's festival was minimalism, then I think it is safe to say Part, who recently became the most performed living classical composer, was a fitting climax.
Apparently ticket demand would have let this concert sell out a second time, and it's too bad more people did not get to experience the glory of Handel and the faith of Part.
William Gudger is professor emeritus of music at the College of Charleston.
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