The Washington Post
Chorus pairs works of reflection and reconciliation
Music can be “timely” or “timeless,” but you don’t always find both ideas in a single program. On Sunday afternoon at National Presbyterian Church, the Washington Chorus did just that, juxtaposing James MacMillan’s provocative “Cantos Sagrados” with the more traditional Requiem of Maurice Duruflé.
MacMillan’s work paints a narrative of oppression from the perspective of the Latin American community, but it can easily be extended to race relations across many communities of color. “Identity,” the first movement, introduces a phone call no mother wants to get: The organ roared as the chorus sang with fervor, “What did you say — they found another one?” Conductor Christopher Bell’s marked beat underlined the emotional weight of the subject.
In the second movement, “Virgin of Guadalupe,” sopranos sang pleadingly, cushioned by the rest of the chorus, the probing question “If we pray to the same Virgin Mother, why are we murdered and reviled?” while the resonant male voices interjected the traditional “Salve Regina.” The chorus sang vigorously in the final movement, “Sun Stone,” while the organ swelled with it, conveying the depth of persecution before diminishing to a hushed “Forgive them, compatriot.”
The requiem offered a more familiar and perhaps safer expression of mourning. Long phrases sung by the men were layered with the lush sonorities of the women’s voices. Bell chose a brisk tempo for the opening “Kyrie,” thereby sacrificing an optimal expansiveness of sound. In the “Libera me,” Kerry Wilkerson showed a warm baritone that was well poised in the cavernous space. Mezzo-soprano Katherine Pracht shone in the “Pie Jesu,” her voice’s burned hues complemented by cellist Katlyn DeGraw. Organist Todd Fickley’s rich accompaniment was an integral part of the performance.
“In Paradisum,” the concluding, reflective movement, brought the audience to a place of reconciliation after the pain of the opening work.