THIS week saw the release of Bryn Terfel’s classical collaboration with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Homeward Bound on Decca Records. A curious title you may think as the Welsh bass-baritone opera singer recorded it in Salt Lake City, but as Bryn told me, the choir have strong Welsh links.
“If you track a little bit of the history of the choir,” Bryn tells me, “there was a Welshman called John Parry from north Wales who caught a boat to America in 1846. Sadly, he lost his wife to cholera at the end of the journey but with a hundred people that were baptised into the Mormon religion they started a choir on that boat.” Some 360 members nowmake up the ensemble.
“The conductor Mack Wilberg said to the choir and orchestra, ‘howmany people have Welsh heritage?’ 70 or 80 per cent of the people lifted their hands with a passion and a musical knowledge that was incredible,”says Bryn.
“The quality of their sound is unique to them. Each section of voices sounds like a single voice its so chamber in its aspect and its feeling.”
Bryn previously sang with the choir in 2003, when he appeared in one of their Christmas concerts, and again in 2007, in concerts marking the reopening of the renovated Salt Lake Tabernacle. Bryn’s collaboration with the choir entitled Homeward Bound features 17 recordings celebrating home, history and heritage.
The hymn Guide Us,O Thou Great Jehovah, sung to the tuneCwmRhondda, and better known to millions as the rousing rugby anthem Bread of Heaven, is given an international flavour while writers such as Paul Mealor and ABBA’s Benny Andersson have provided Faith’s Call and Give Me My Song respectively.
“The choices are all taken care of by Mack Wilberg who has orchestrated nearly all of them; this man is a musical genius.
“He was not only in charge of the musical elements but also the accompaniment of the orchestra so that was very important. Some pieces that I’d performed before like Shenandoah and Shall We Gather At The River were given a different colour, a different cloth some of them I’m really incredibly proud of .”
I wonder if the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is possibly the largest in number Bryn has performed with. “You’re right!” he replies, “especially on an amateur platform, although you can’t think of them as amateur! They are so professional, they had all memorised the songs travelling many miles on a Wednesday night to go to choir practice which is incredible when you think of the State of Utah!”
I ask Bryn if any future live performances with the choir seem likely and he doesn’t rule it out, “Mack Wilberg was certainly talking about a series of Christmas concerts again and of course if they come to the British Isles I would jump at the chance to perform with them.”
In the meantime, Bryn is artist in residence at the Liverpool Philharmonic until September 22, then it’s off to the States again .
“The San Francisco opera house want to do Falstaff, so at the drop of a hat I will perform that opera” says Bryn with enthusiasm.
Homeward Bound by Bryn Terfel and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is out now on Decca Records.