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Master Singers, WPI Jazz Band gel in ‘Myriad Colors’

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The Master Singers of Worcester perform at the First Unitarian Church in Worcester Sunday Dec. 7. The group presented “Myriad Colors” with WPI’s Jazz Band. (T&G Staff/RICK CINCLAIR)

By John Zeugner, Telegram & Gazette Reviewer – December 8, 2014

The Christmas Season’s Improbable Alliance Award goes to Malcolm Halliday’s Master Singers and Rich Falco’s WPI’s Jazz Band for their luminous concert Sunday afternoon at the First Unitarian Church, Worcester.

Titled “Myriad Colors,” this inter-generational exploration turned out to be a multi-sonority wing-ding of a very high order indeed. The second half of the concert was devoted to Will Todd’s well regarded 2001-2003 composition, “Mass in Blue,” a dizzying, improbable linkage of jazz band backup for a traditional choral Latin Mass, with a soaring soprano just to spike things further.

To carry off an improvisational “Agnus Dei” or “Credo” by cranking in jazz motifs and syncopations required considerable attentiveness to both fixed choral dynamics and apparent (if legislated) jazz spontaneities. Watching Halliday and Falco direct their mature and fresh-faced minions was a study in coordination. Even their hand signals seemed to match.

Falco nicely moderated his band’s nifty brass blare so as not to overwhelm the singers, and Halliday occasionally lessened the impressive power of his singers so that soprano Monica Hatch, in howling fine voice and dazzling gown, could vocally shimmer and riff above them (and the band) in the immense crescendos of Todd’s score. The big, big climax of the “Credo” segment elicited immediate applause from the crowd.

At the end of the Mass, the audience stood cheering, and during that celebration Falco gave a call-out to his pianist Andrew Strout, who had deftly launched and held together nearly every segment. Falco also acknowledged the meltingly sweet sound of his clarinet section and flutist Julia Trong.

The first half of the concert belonged solely to the Master Singers, and they professionally and with surprisingly powerful sound swept through five contemporary songs from Pablo Casals’ “Nigra sum” for sopranos and altos only, to Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park,” whose always off-expectation lyrics required pinpoint articulation.

There was a consistently somber tone to these songs, even Gwyneth Walker’s rendition of e.e. cummings’ slyly humorous poem, “White Horses.” Only in Olga Rogach’s always adroit piano accompaniment throughout the song cycle, and in the Singers’ lilting version of Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” were there hints of the spectacular, wild dynamics Halliday, Hatch and Falco would unleash in Todd’s “Mass in Blue.”

The improbable alliance paid off brilliantly.

Master Singers of Worcester, Inc., P.O. Box 7203, Worcester, MA 01605 - 508-842-1349