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Composer's infectious melodies flatter chorus

By JOHN FLEMING, Times Performing Arts Critic
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

TAMPA -- The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay performed music of Eleanor Daley on Friday night, and it came as something of a revelation. Not many people in the audience at Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church could have been familiar with the Canadian composer, but they surely went away from the concert wanting to hear more from her.

Daley, director of music at Fairlawn Heights United Church in Toronto, worked with the chorus during the week and was in attendance for Friday's program, which included two of her a cappella works.

But first the chorale had an American classic to sing. Under director Richard Zielinski, the evening opened with The Peaceable Kingdom by Randall Thompson.

With text from Isaiah, the cantata is a difficult one and showed that the chorus was in fine form. Singers handled the emphatic, almost surreal phrasing of "pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them" in the third movement with aplomb.

In the fifth movement, there was a lovely part for the soprano section, floating in counterpoint over the rest of the choir. The finale had one of Thompson's trademark crescendos, as "and gladness of heart" repeated and built in intensity to satisfying effect.

The premiere of Daley's Listen to the Sunrise, which the chorale commissioned, featured a substantial role for the Tampa Bay Children's Chorus and the Gulf Coast Children's Choir. The adult and children's choirs alternated in taking the lead in the short work, which has lyrics by Kenneth I. Morse. It's an impeccably well-made piece, with smooth structural symmetry and a sweet sound, especially the bell-like tones of the children's voices.

Zielinski did a good job of keeping the combined choirs in synch, considering that the children were separated from the Master Chorale by quite a distance at the side of the sanctuary.

Daley's Requiem, named outstanding new choral composition by the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors in 1994, got a great performance. Among the soloists was Lisa Watson, whose focused soprano brought a suitably lyrical quality to modern poetry by Carolyn Smart.

Daley worked an inventive mix of texts into her Requiem. Along with Smart's poetry, sources include the Latin Missa pro defunctis, a Russian benediction, the Book of Common Prayer and Psalm 130. The fourth movement is a graceful setting of Mary Elizabeth Frye's In Remembrance, touching consolation on the loss of a loved one.

Daley has a flexible, deceptively simple writing style that flattered the chorus, as all sections sounded wonderfully nimble and light in her infectious melodies. The eight-movement Requiem generated considerable momentum as it went along, and reaching the gentle finale left the listener feeling absolutely at peace.

* * *

REVIEW: The Master Chorale repeats its program at 4 p.m. today at St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic Church, Tarpon Springs. Tickets: $15, $20.

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