United Kingdom Various, ‘A Journey into the Light’: Davóne Tines (bass-baritone), Paul Watkins (cello), Gloria Chien (piano), Brentano String Quartet, Chamber Music Northwest, Reed College, Portland, Oregon, 25.7.2021. Available for streaming through 31.8.2021 on 2021 AT-HOME Festival. (RP)
Messiaen – Quartet for the End of Time, V. ‘Praise to the Eternity of Jesus’
Davóne Tines – Excerpts from Recital #1: MASS
Caroline Shaw – ‘Kyrie’
Bach – ‘Wie jammern mich doch die verkehrten Herzen’ (Cantata Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust BWV 170)
Caroline Shaw – ‘Agnus Dei’
Tyshawn Sorey – after ‘Swing Low’
Caroline Shaw – ‘Credo’
Bach – ‘Mache dich mein Herze rein’ ( Matthew Passion BWV 244)
Caroline Shaw – ‘Gloria’
Moses Hogan – ‘Give Me Jesus’
Caroline Shaw – ‘Sanctus’
Julius Eastman – ‘Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan D’Arc’
Davóne Tines/Igee Dieudonné – ‘VIGIL’
Schubert – String Quintet in C major D.956 Op.163
Chamber Music Northwest’s 2021 summer festival ended with a profoundly moving concert that featured two very different works, Davóne Tines’ Excerpts from Recital #1: MASS and Schubert’s String Quartet in C major. What united them was their integrity, profound depictions of emotions and moments of unsurpassable lyrical beauty.
With Recital #1: MASS, Tines seeks to re-imagine the traditional vocal recital format, something which does not particularly resonate with him. He is not an iconoclast, however, as he constructed the recital upon one of the oldest musical forms in Western culture – the Mass, which is the central act of worship in much of the Christian church. Its main themes are those that are central to his being, his faith and the music that he has sung his entire life with family and friends in church.
Caroline Shaw’s setting of the Mass provides the bones of the recital. Neither she nor Tines adhere to the traditional order of the five parts of the Ordinary of the Mass, choosing to end with the more joyous Sanctus. Likewise, Shaw does not set the entire texts but only the words that are integral to her interpretation of these ancient prayers.
Tines paired each part of the Mass with selections that ranged from Bach to Julius Eastman, whose personal motto – ‘To be what I am to the fullest: Black to the fullest, a musician to the fullest, and a homosexual to the fullest’ – might not raise an eyebrow today but certainly would have in the 1970s. Eastman’s ‘Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan D’Arc’, which followed the Sanctus, is an example of his bold minimalist style.
The impact of the juxtaposition of such diverse musical works was equaled by Tines’ remarkable voice and deep personal connection to the music that he performed. Credo, the only word of the lengthy prayer that Shaw chose to set, shot forth from Tines like a wail of despair. It was followed by his gentle, smooth performance of ’Mache dich mein Herze rein’ from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Just as eloquent as Tines was pianist Gloria Chien, whose spellbinding playing captured the intimacy and compassion inherent in the aria.
Tines also addressed one of the pressing social issues of the day in ‘VIGIL’, which he conceived as a tribute to the memory of Breonna Taylor, whose tragic death in March 2020 sparked renewed calls for racial justice within the United States and abroad. With lustrous tone and the utmost sincerity, Tines sang the words ‘Where there is darkness, we’ll bring light’ over and over again in a stunning arrangement by Igee Dieudonné.
Spirituals were also woven into the fabric of the recital. As one might expect, Tines sang ‘Give me Jesus’, but others were heard afresh. As he explained in the program, the popular perception is that spirituals were happy songs or joyous hymns of praise, but in reality they were born out of overwhelming desperation. ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ and ‘Sweet Little Jesus Boy’ are probably coded suicide notes of slaves who could no longer live in captivity, rather than songs of comfort or praise. The latter was his sole encore which, he explained, is a song that his grandmother has him sing for her at Christmas.
The concert began with the Fifth Movement of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, entitled ‘Praise to the Eternity of Jesus’. This serene music was likewise composed in the most desperate of circumstances: Messiaen wrote it when he was held as a prisoner of war by the Nazis during the Second World War. It was etched to perfection by cellist Paul Watkins and Chien at the piano.
Schubert’s String Quintet in C major was composed during the final weeks of his life, but it is not the music of a man preparing for death. Even though Schubert knew that he was suffering from a fatal illness, he did not expect to die. The work is as famous for the extremes of emotion that Schubert captured in its four movements as for the addition of a second cello to the standard string quartet.
The Brentano Quartet, augmented by Watkins as the second cellist, gave a masterful performance of the Schubert. When called for, the performance was impassioned and grand, but nothing heard in the recital surpassed the sublime beauty of the Adagio. It is music so moving that both pianist Artur Rubenstein and novelist Thomas Mann requested to hear it as they lay dying.