Just a quick update. I tried underexposing and developing to bring out the highlights, while keeping everything in the range I wanted. The negatives came out very thin in the shadows, but almost spot on in the clouds. Even with almost pure black shadows, the prints from Cewe came back overly bright.
The other place where I get prints sent back something decent, so it must be related to the operator/equipment in combination with my developing.
Thanks again for the help and correspondence.
R4 cannot change the contrast of the print to match the negative. From what I recall R 4 color paper has less ladatude than black and white paper. You may be in a situation in which the R4 color paper cannot print all the tones in the negative. Does your lab only print on auto or does the operator customize the exposure? You may want to send one negative you think has printable highlights and shadows to a custom lab just see if the lab can adjust the contrast of the paper to match your negative. If so, and you need to use the local lab due to price you may want to consider exposing for the highlights and letting the shadows fall where they may, or just accept blown highlights.
Typically to reduce negative's contrast, you need to increase exposure and decrease development. It sounds like you've done the opposite. On the other hand, if a hybrid printer cannot adjust contrast in printing, it is a clear case of a PBCK problem. Get a new lab.
I get better results from the lab further away. Neither does anything in house, as it isn't cost effective anymore. For my normal stuff both do good work, but Cewe just doesn't match the other lab.
After my last attempt with Cewe, I've given up on them. They do everything auto, take 2 weeks, and have no QA in place. The other guys do better work, clean the negatives prior to loading, and get the job done in far less time. I think it's related to Cewe's bulk handling of things, even their scans are terrible. Although, it has forced me to improve my procedures, so it's not a total waste!
Thank you to all, for your help and time!
Just an update. I verified that the printing is indeed the issue. After contact printing the negatives in question, and several other large format negatives developed the same, I found that my results are what I was desiring. Perhaps, as mentioned above, the issue is the R4 process.
To all who helped, my sincere gratitude. Now back to making contact prints the hard way!