New York Times

Monday, October 4, 2004

The Calm Mysteries of Another World


St. Ignatious of Antioch Church

Those who assume that you cannot appreciate music from the Middle Ages and Renaissance without some background knowledge of its history should have been at the concert by Lionheart at St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church on Friday evening. Lionheart, an acclaimed a cappella ensemble of just six men, presented a 60-minute program called "My Fayre Ladye: Images of Women in Medieval England." If you knew nothing about the repertory of the period, it was still possible just to immerse yourself in the calming, mystical, musical pleasure of the voices as they echoed throughout the lovely, inviting and reverberant church, at West End Avenue and 87th Street. It was certainly a restorative way to end a work week.

Not that the well-conceived program, part of the New York Early Music Celebration, didn't also offer intellectual stimulation. The works were mostly drawn from Eton Choirbook, a collection of polyphonic sacred music, and Henry VIII's Book, containing popular songs and songs of courtly love from the era. The selections explored various images women: the regal, the maternal, the beloved, the unfathomable, the hunted, the sorrowful and the triumphant. The sensually charged sacred works, like John Dunstable's "Quam Pulcra Es," are meant, as Richard Porterfield wrote in an insightful program note, to provide a "common ground for divine love and carnal desire."

In a way, it did not require much adjustment when Lionheart switched to shamelessly bawdy songs like "Blow Thy Horne, Hunter," filled with sexual double-entendres. As always the singing of Lionheart was beautifully blended and focused, full but never forced, and supply phrased.

Anthony Tommasini

Copyright 2004 New York Times  

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