Category: Archive

Trad Beat Anonymous no more

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Earle Hitchner

ANONYMOUS 4, at All Saints’ Chapel, Trinity-Pawling School, Pawling, N.Y. Dec. 9.

Amid the scent of fresh-cut evergreens adorning the walls of an English Gothic-style chapel on the campus of this all-boys private school, four women elegantly attired in long black dresses walked quietly out onto the stage. There was no applause — the program sheet specifically requested that it be held until the end of the performance — nor was there an intermission.

The concert by Anonymous 4, drawing material from their seasonal album "On Yoolis Night" (Harmonia Mundi), would run approximately 80 minutes without interruption.

When Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Johanna Maria Rose, and new member Jacqueline Horner, who is from Belfast, opened their mouths, out came unaccompanied, unmiked vocals in rapturous unison and clarity, the blend so beautiful and reverential as to hush even the most stubborn coughs among the audience.

Formed in 1986 in New York City to sing medieval chant and polyphony, Anonymous 4 have risen to the ranks of the world’s most accomplished early-music vocal ensembles, famed for their pitch-perfect weave of three sopranos of rich, varied colors with the agile, potent alto of Hellauer.

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After a demanding round of auditions last spring, Horner, a Queen’s University graduate who had come to New York City in 1996 courtesy of a lottery green card, was chosen to replace departed founding member Ruth Cunningham.

Horner’s impressively malleable lyric soprano adds new texture and greater sonority to the justly acclaimed singing of Anonymous 4. On the 15th-century carol "Lullay: I Saw a Swete Semly Sight," Horner and Genensky sung melody for a time as the other two voices dropped out, and the effect was hypnotic. The Marian motet of "Prolis Eterne Genitor/Psallat Mater Gracie" challenged Hellauer and Horner to create a pattern of intertwining melodic notes and words. In this short choral structure that can be a slippery slope for the less able and alert, the two women gave the illusion of elasticity through flawlessly tight, accurate singing, which was immaculately fleshed out by Genensky and Rose’s resonant sopranos.

Not everything in the repertoire this night came from the late Middle Ages, either. The early part of that period was represented through the fifth-century hymn "A Solis Ortus Cardine," a triumph of four voices delicately framing the emotions elicited by the Nativity, with a whisper fragility and meticulousness to the harmony that were utterly breathtaking.

Interspersed among the 15 hymns, carols, motets, and songs were six readings about the Nativity given by individual members of Anonymous 4. Delivered with poise and poignancy, the readings created a succinct narrative connecting the vocal selections and reminded all of us in the chapel of the event at the center of this performance: Christ’s birth.

In the intimate setting of a chapel with superb acoustics, it was a magical evening of four glorious voices — Irish singer Horner’s especially — raised in song and focused on "the reason for the season," as the lapel button of a patron sitting near me proclaimed. Trinity-Pawling School has been putting on such concerts for 25 years now, and the crowd packing the chapel testified to the ongoing appeal of this excellent, eclectic subscription series in southern Dutchess County.

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