The pairing of Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir might be thought a purely commercial venture, but in fact Terfel has announced an affinity with the Mormon faith, has pointed out that many of the original Mormon pioneers in Utah were of Welsh descent, and appears to have flirted with conversion. In any event, beyond the presence of the choir and the arrangements, mostly by its conductor, Mack Wilberg, the music is not specifically Mormon. Instead you get a selection of classic American hymns from both the white and black branches of the tradition, mixed in with folk tunes, pop, contemporary inspirational songs like the extraordinarily widely distributed title track by Marta Keen, and miscellaneous classical pieces old and new. Most but not all of the music is religious. One's underlying attitude toward Terfel, Mormonism, and crossover music in general may determine much of one's reaction here, but there's no question that Terfel displays an unexpected affinity for much of the material. The proceedings get off to a slightly uncomfortable start with Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," where Terfel tries to split the difference between "myself" and "mahself," but in general he is at home with American diction and a certain conversational tone that characterizes American hymnody. His reading of the Billy Graham-associated hymn "How Great Thou Art" is especially effective. Wilberg's arrangements have an admirable simplicity, and those tired of the heavy orchestration of releases by the likes of Sarah Brightman may well find Terfel a breath of fresh air. This is very much a Bryn Terfel album; he takes the lead role on most of the numbers rather than accompanying the choir. But the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Utah's Orchestra at Temple Square ably uphold Salt Lake City's long tradition of superior classical music-making for such a small place. An affecting and even intriguing turn in Terfel's career, guaranteed to please for most.
Homeward Bound Review
by James Manheim