Davóne Tines’ “Mass” brings intimacy, power to Ravinia recital

Wed Sep 01, 2021 at 12:50 pm

By Wynne Delacoma

Davóne Tines performed Tuesday night at Ravinia.
Photo: Ravinia Festival/Patrick Gipson

Probably some qualities were lost Tuesday night when bass-baritone Davóne Tines performed his “Recital No. 1: Mass” with pianist Adam Nielsen in Ravinia’s vast, open-sided Pavilion. Most solo vocal recitals are best heard in intimate indoor spaces like Ravinia’s Bennett Gordon Hall. Tines would have performed in that 450-seat venue had not Covid-19 restrictions prompted Ravinia to move its entire 2021 season outdoors.

But something powerful was gained in hearing Tines’ imaginative exploration of the prayers of the traditional Latin Mass in a large space open to the elements. In segments ranging from the Kyrie to the Sanctus, Tines paired a brief a cappella setting of the Mass text by contemporary composer Caroline Shaw with arias by J. S. Bach and radical re-inventions of traditional tunes like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” by contemporary Black American composer Tyshawn Sorey. 

“Recital No. 1 Mass” is one of those rare art works that speaks directly to the anxieties of the moment with no hint of polemics. Tines possesses a commanding bass-baritone that ranged from sepulchral depths to open-throated, luminous heights. Deploying it masterfully, he made us think about everything from our fractious political scene (“They joy only in vengeance and hatred” in an aria from Bach’s Cantata No. 170) to the shooting deaths of innocent children (“Sweet little holy child/We didn’t know who you were”) in Sorey’s brooding setting of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” Hearing the recital outside, surrounded by towering trees under a darkly cloudy sky, we felt the immense weight and timelessness of the Mass’s centuries-old conversation with God. The plea for mercy in the Kyrie, the hunger for peace and rest in the Agnus Dei became almost viscerally urgent.

Shaw’s settings ranged from a declamatory, single-word outburst in the Credo to unsettled melismas in the Kyrie, requests for mercy that shifted between ringing confidence and quiet uncertainty.  The recital opened with the Kyrie, and Tines’ voice sounded a bit stiff in the first  Bach selection,“Wie jammern mich.” But by the Credo, he was fully warmed up, and the Bach selection, “Mache dich, mein Herze, rein” from the St. Matthew Passion, unfurled with easy grace. Borne along by the fluid, Schubert-like ornaments of Nielsen’s piano accompaniment, Tines’ long-spun vocal lines conveyed both ardent longing for Christ’s presence and confidence that his prayer would be heard.

In the Agnus Dei segment, Sorey’s settings of the spirituals “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” wandered far from their familiar melodies. Over the piano’s gnarly chords and distracted motifs, Tines turned “Were You There” into an utterly desolate lament. “Sweet Chariot” seemed to come from the depths of a bone-weary soul. In his slow, hushed melodies, his dark-hued voice conveyed exactly how tragically low the chariot will have to swing to lift him to the heavens. 

The recital’s breath-taking apex was the Sanctus section with Julius Eastman’s Prelude to ‘The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc.’ In percussive, repetitive phrases, Tines set the scene in which Saints Michael, Catherine and Margaret appear to Joan, offering their advice before her trial. Hammering away at the short phrases–“He said, she said,” endlessly repeating the saints’ names, never saying what they actually said, he had us on the edge of our seats. When he finally revealed their advice—“Speak boldly”—the message seemed to come from the stormy sky itself. Relentlessly intense, Tines repeated the phrase in all shades of sound from quiet, authoritative command to fiery incantation. Gradually fading out, it hung in the humid night air like an irresistible call to action.

The Benedictus, the Mass section which followed, closed the recital. After Eastman’s relentless Prelude, the final selection, VIGIL—an ethereal, gently lyrical piece by Igee Dieudonné and Tines—washed over us like a much-needed, healing balm. 

“Recital No. 1: Mass” may have been meant for a small concert hall. But heard outside, it carried enough power to storm the heavens. 

Posted in Performances

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