San Francisco, California

The prospect of a choral program comprised of five Te Deums might leave one asking “How interesting could that be?” The answer, as provided by the San Francisco Lyric Chorus, was “Quite.” The ensemble presented five settings at an afternoon performance, Aug. 24, of its summer concert at Trinity Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

Originally sung in Latin and translated into English during the 16th century, Te Deums are Christian hymns of praise and celebration that date from the fourth century. The Te Deum consists of 29 verses of prose divided into three sections. The extensive list of composers who have contributed settings includes John Taverner, Jean Baptiste Lully, Henry Purcell, Mozart, the Haydn brothers, Verdi, and many more. Prior to reading Helene Whitson’s fabulously detailed program notes (references fill 1-1/3 pages of the printed program), I had no idea that the form filled such a niche in the musical canon.

Housed at Trinity since its 1995 founding, the San Francisco Lyric Chorus is an auditioned ensemble of 40 that performs music of all periods with an emphasis on lesser-known works.

To open the program, tenors Kevin Baum and Benjamin West led a procession of the chorus while singing Te Deum Laudamus (Latin rite, solemn tone) a cappella. Keyboardist Robert Train Adams with Trinity’s 1924 Skinner organ and timpanist Allen Biggs accompanied the balance of the program, which was directed by Robert Gurney.

The Te Deum in A Major, composed by George Frideric Handel in the 1720s for the Chapel Royal, featured Jennifer Ashworth, soprano, Daniel Cromeenes, countertenor, Kevin Baum, tenor, and William Neely, bass. Generally, I am not a fan of the countertenor voice, but am happy to make exception for the sweet, haunting quality of Cromeenes’s upper register. All of the soloists were in perfect voice throughout the program.

The setting of Te Deum in C used in the performance was the second composed by Joseph Haydn, and was commissioned by Austria’s Empress Marie Therese in 1799.

Benjamin Britten wrote his Festival Te Deum in 1945 for the 100th anniversary of St. Mark’s Church in Wiltshire, England. Ashworth sang the soprano solos.

Antonín Dvorák’s Te Deum closed the program, and again featured Ashworth and Neely. The work was commissioned in 1892 for the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America and was performed that year at Carnegie Hall for the first time.

Trinity’s acoustics and 19th century architecture contributed a special richness to the sound and ambience of the chorus’s lovely presentation.

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