Article published November 14, 2005 | Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.
By John Zeugner Telegram & Gazette Reviewer
The remarkable richness of choral music available in Central Massachusetts was acutely on display Saturday night, as the Salisbury Singers opened their season at United Congregational Church in Worcester.
Under Michelle Graveline’s deft and tight direction, the singers offered a selection of American or near-American folk songs hinged together on issues appropriate to Veterans Day. Ms. Graveline also provided felicitous introductory commentary.
Some songs like “Home Sweet Home,” “Yellow Rose of Texas” and “Shenandoah” were familiar enough but rendered new by the singers; others by Aaron Copland were far from familiar status — “Stomp Your Foot,” from Copland’s opera “The Tender Land,” or his “Ching-A-Ring Chaw.”
The opening pieces by Alice Parker, “Goin’ to Boston” and “Soldier, Soldier, Won’t You Marry Me,” immediately signaled the Salisbury Singers’ distinctions: their ability to sing a cappella and their crisp diction. The high-ceilinged spaces of the church raised the likelihood of smudging lyrics and required a very conscious compensatory modulation and articulation. The punch of Parker’s song “Soldier, Soldier” depends upon the audience understanding the final lyric, and Ms. Graveline had pointed that out in her introduction. The 70 strong voices of the Salisbury group perfectly executed the words to deliver the joke, at once amusing and sad.
The first half of the concert concluded with a rousing version of Copland’s “Stomp Your Foot.” Since the piece was originally scored for voices and two pianos, Ms. Graveline solved that requirement by sitting next to her accompanist, Lynn LaComfora, and simply playing the second piano part in the lower registers, while LaComfora played the first in the upper registers.
The second half opened somberly with Ron Jeffers’ affecting “Waitin’ for the Dawn of Peace,” sung by the male singers with volume and control, with emphasis on the pathos of combat and finishing in an adroitly executed diminuendo. The full singers blended superbly to render a near perfect version of Stephen Foster’s “Gentle Annie.”
Then for a triptych of three well-known songs, the singers were joined by two young soloists out of Westborough High School’s music program, Claire Stout (violin) and Emily Sricharoenchaikit (double bass). Stout had the heavy lifting, introducing the melodies and illustrating their variation often times above the singing. The third song, “Old Dan Tucker,” was probably the high point of the concert, the audience clearly favoring its rousing energy.
In a demonstration of the depth of talent within the Salisbury Singers, Margaret Tartaglio substituted very capably at the last minute for the scheduled soloist in James Erb’s version of “Shenandoah.”
The concert concluded, appropriately enough, with Allan Naplan’s “An American Anthem,” blending “America the Beautiful” and the national anthem. The audience gave the singers a standing ovation.
Then, in a nifty encore Ms. Graveline dedicated a blend of two New Orleans favorites, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” to a fund for the restoration of musical instruments lost by schools in the Gulf Coast because of Hurricane Katrina.
Copyright 2005 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.