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Masterworks concert to feature sacred poetry

Masterworks Chorale rehearses for weekend concerts

Belleville-based chorus performs Saturday evening in St. Louis and Sunday afternoon in Belleville.
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Belleville-based chorus performs Saturday evening in St. Louis and Sunday afternoon in Belleville.

Choruses often perform liturgical works with familiar lyrics, and Masterworks Chorale is no exception, but its upcoming concert will feature sacred poetry that isn’t as well known.

“I really wanted to do something a little different,” said Stephen Mager, who has led the Belleville-based chorus for eight years.

“Mystical Songs” is the theme of two performances, one at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis and one at 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Belleville.

The chorus will begin with “Five Mystical Songs,” composed by Englishman Ralph Vaughan Williams in the early 1900s.

“It’s a beautiful cycle of songs,” Mager said. “And all the lyrics are by George Herbert, an English poet (and Anglican priest). He was a younger contemporary of Shakespeare.”

Other pieces will include “Rejoice in the Lamb,” a cantata composed by Englishman Benjamin Britten in 1943, as well as 18th-century works by Italian Antonio Vivaldi.

It’s a beautiful cycle of songs, and all the lyrics are by George Herbert, an English poet (and Anglican priest). He was a younger contemporary of Shakespeare.

Stephen Mager on “Five Mystical Songs”

The performance will feature solos by baritone Brandon Smith, of St. Louis, and accompaniment by Andrew Peters, organist at First Presbyterian.

“Most of the works are either unaccompanied, or they use an organ,” said Mager, who also is composer-in-residence for the Bach Society of St. Louis.

This is the 43rd season for Masterworks Chorale, founded by Dennis Sparger, who directed for more than 30 years before turning over the baton to Mager. The chorus now has about 35 members.

This weekend is their first concert of the 2016-2017 season. The chorus also is looking ahead to its Christmas show with Christine Brewer, a renowned soprano who lives in Lebanon.

“It’s going to be quite a concert,” said Masterworks board president Stephen McAllister. “She has an international audience.”

Masterworks rehearses at Southwestern Illinois College and usually performs at St. Paul or St. Clare Catholic Church in O’Fallon. The Brewer show will be Dec. 11 at St. Clare.

McAllister, 62, of Belleville, is a civil servant at Scott Air Force Base and a retired Air Force pilot. He joined the chorus as a bass singer seven years ago, along with his wife, Alicia.

“The music is beautiful,” McAllister said. “And it gives me a great deal of pleasure learning it and performing it for an audience.”

At a glance

  • What: “Mystical Songs” concert
  • Who: Masterworks Chorale
  • St. Louis: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Second Presbyterian Church, 4501 Westminster Place
  • Belleville: 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Paul United Church of Christ, 115 W. B St.
  • Admission: $20 for adults, $15 for senior citizens and $10 for students and military personnel
  • Information: Call 618-304-9094 or visit www.singmasterworks.org
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