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After three lively Broadway hits, Webber goes for a serious note

Andrew Lloyd Webber has written his share of hit musicals -- ``Jesus Christ Superstar,'' ``Cats,'' and ``Evita.'' From each musical has come one, and only one, song that has gone on to become a universal favorite. Now Mr. Webber has turned his attention to something more serious -- a ``Requiem.'' He has won the support of conductor Lorin Maazel and tenor Pl'acido Domingo to lend a suitable seriousness to the undertaking, but it does not altogether help accomplish that end. The world premi`ere public performance of the piece was given at St. Thomas's Church Feb. 24 and taped at that time for PBS simulcasting this Fri., April 5, on Exxon's ``Great Performances'' (check local listings for time). The work was recorded last December in London for Angel Records (DFO 38218, digital) in what sounded like a glorified sight-reading session. At St. Thomas's, the exceptional Orchestra of St. Luke's was better able to bring to life this score, which gives new meaning to the word ``eclectic.''

Mr. Webber does have a few good melodic ideas, and on occasion the harmonic shifts are rather pretty. Yet overall this ``Requiem'' plays like a patchwork quilt of the serious sacred and secular music he considers an influence, or to which he has been partial over the years.

Maazel gives it all some life. Domingo -- both on the recording and at St. Thomas's -- is in less than grand voice. Sarah Brightman (also known as Mrs. A. L. Webber) is optimistically listed as an operatic soprano and has a cruelly high part written for the likes of Joan Sutherland in her freshest days. The boy soprano Paul Miles-Knighton has more tonal quality than she, and he ends up being the single most impressive contributor to both the recording and the PBS evening.

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