The Master Singers of Worcester perform a concert titled "The Two Women of Canada".
(T&G Staff/MARK C. IDE)

Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 07, 2005 12:00AM
Canadian compositions given voice in Worcester
By John Zeugner Telegram & Gazette Staff

WORCESTER- Through the Canadian-American border - the longest unguarded one on the planet - have passed not only Peter Jennings, the Kids in the Hall and prescription drugs, but more important Saturday night, masterful musical compositions. In a unique, ambitious and deftly executed concert titled "Two Women of Canada," the Master Singers of Worcester, joined by the Worcester Children's Chorus, the Worcester Youth Chorale, and Youth pro Musica, the Greater Boston Youth Chorus, performed works by Eleanor Daley and Ruth Watson Henderson - not exactly household names in Central Massachusetts.

Perhaps the more internationally renowned of the two, Daley has published more than 80 choral compositions, and her Requiem, which the Master Singers performed, appears on a CD by the Amadeus Choir. She has at least two other CDs: "Canticle of the Spirit" and "What Sweeter Music," featuring her Christmas compositions. Henderson, the grand dame of Canadian choral music, won a National Award for her composition "Voices of Earth," which was featured in the second half of Saturday night's concert in the spacious sanctuary of the First Unitarian Church.

The Master Singer's artistic director and conductor, Malcolm Halliday, opened the concert with Daley's Requiem, a somber and beguiling mix of eclectic religious texts - selections from Latin masses, Carolyn Smart's poem "The Sound of the Birds," Psalm 130, the burial service from the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer, all sung in eight separately titled segments. The singers' tone was appropriately grave, austere, somewhat muted in alignment with the texts. There was superb solo work by soprano Virginia Sory Brown, and baritone Jonathan LaBarre in four of the selections. In a nice touch emphasizing the integration of the Master Singers, the soloists sang from their positions in the chorus.

At the conclusion of the Requiem, conductor Peter Krasinski brought the youth choruses down from their positions in the right and left balconies, assembled them at the front of the sanctuary and wonderfully delivered four songs. After the gravity of the Requiem's tone, the purity and shimmering quality of these youths' singing was uplifting and almost amazing. The second song, "The Blue Eye of God," had the Youth pro Musica providing some of the lyrics in a broad, rasping whispering. In three of the songs, director Halliday took up the piano accompaniment, and in the last song Susan Moore joined in rhythmically playing what seemed to be wood and metal spoons.

The second half of the concert began with French and English versions of the Canadian national anthem, "O Canada." The youth choruses were back up in their balconies and the audience stood and sang rousingly. Then the rest of the evening was given over to Henderson's "Voices of Earth," consisting mostly of a surprising musical setting of various poems or poetic excerpts by the Canadian Archibald Lampman, a late 19th-century poet who died at age 37. Lampman, generally considered Canada's best poet writing in English, suffered mightily from an extramarital affair carried on during the last 10 years of his life, pouring his guilt and anguish into his final volume, "Alcyone," excerpts of which conclude Henderson's "Voice of Earth."

Halliday was back in charge of the full choruses in the balconies and before him. In addition there was a bevy of six precise percussionists, and the redoubtable piano duo of Sima Kustanovich and Olga Rogach, so that the music had an arresting combination of choral lushness backed by a certain strident percussive snap. The deputy consul general of Canada from Boston made exceptionally graceful concluding remarks, reminding the audience, as if the music hadn't already, that although Canada could be a world away it was, after all, only a short drive to the border.