Davóne Tines review – cavernous and distinctive voice asks us to join the dots

·2-min read

Recital No 1: MASS, part of a mini-residency by the rising bass-baritone Davóne Tines at the Barbican Centre, was not like any mass you’ve been to – or probably, for that matter, any recital. The programme, already performed in the US, is a sequence of songs hung by Tines on a framework of five tiny solo settings of the liturgy, or snapshot words from it, by Caroline Shaw. In between these, Tines and the pianist Adam Nielsen gave us Bach arias, spirituals and songs by Black composers, including Margaret Bonds and Tyshawn Sorey. They finished as a pair with the brief and gentle VIGIL, dedicated to the memory of Breonna Taylor, which Tines wrote himself with Igee Dieudonné. Tines returned alone for his encore, a mashup of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and Nobody Knows.

It’s the presentation that makes the experience unfamiliar. The house lights are down and there are no texts to follow, nothing to tell us what comes next; behind the performers, a white screen announces questions or quotes in stark black letters, and how the music connects with them is up to us to ponder. “What are you worried about?” follows the Kyrie, which is after all a sort of request for help. Picasso’s “every act of creation is an act of destruction” followed Shaw’s setting of the single word “Credo” – and yes, perhaps you could preach some kind of sermon on that homily, though how well Mache dich, mein Herze, rein, Bach’s great aria of renewal from the St Matthew Passion, fits with it is debatable. It felt almost transgressive, gleefully so, to hear this and another Bach aria performed in such an old-school way, Nielsen setting about the piano part as if it were a Rachmaninov prelude.

Tines’s voice is distinctive: cavernous, rich in overtones, arresting in its power at the bottom and in its sweetness in his brief falsetto passages, especially in a few gospel-flavoured moments towards the end, as if Boris Christoff suddenly morphed into Smokey Robinson. Sweetness wasn’t a feature of the longest number, Julius Eastman’s Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc – 10 minutes of uncompromising, repetitive declamation, mainly on just four notes. This was the penitential bit. Otherwise, it was refreshing to have a musician ask us to think for ourselves, even if the connections he was asking us to make could be elusive.

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