Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Monday, April 19, 1999

Vocal groups sparkle while honoring Ockeghem

By Mark Kanny, Classical Music Critic

On the eve of the new millennium, the Renaissance and Baroque Society went back 500 years Saturday night to celebrate the music of Johannes Ockeghem.  Two exceptional vocal groups combined forces for the special concert at Oakland's St. Paul Cathedral, with a program built around Ockeghem's "Missa Mi-Mi."

The four women who comprise Anonymous 4, a group formed in 1986 to explore medieval chant and polyphony, have become stars of the early music world.  Their recordings have topped the Billboard classical charts as they have given concerts across four continents.  Lionheart is a male ensemble of six singers who specialize in Gregorian chant. They've released two albums, and are also in demand for concerts and radio broadcasts.  Both ensembles achieve exceptional purity of timbre and intonation. In the apt acoustics of St. Paul's, the two ensembles produced extraordinary sound, gently surrounding the listener with beauty.

Ockeghem, who died 502 years ago, was widely celebrated in his day.  The exemplary program notes by one of the members of Anonymous 4 stress the beauty of his singing bass voice; the sweetness and subtlety of his music;-and its historical significance. Innovative in its own time, his body of work served as transition from High Medieval to Renaissance styles.

In addition to the Missa Mi-Mi, the performers included three Marian motets, "Alma redemptoris mater," "Salve regina," and "Ave Maria," as well as the plainsong that would be heard as part of a solemn Mass as Ockeghem knew it.  Hearing plainsong and polyphony alongside each other heightened the effect of each. Plainsong, also known as plainchant, focused the ear and spirit on a single line, preparing for the majesty and nuance of the multiple voices of polyphony.

The concert concluded with Josquin's beautiful setting of Jean Molinet's elegy to Ockeghem, "Nymphes des bois." Josquin used the Introit chant of the Requiem and gave it to the voice Ockeghem would have sung, the bass, while above it wrote his own musical lines of extraordinary expressive force. The text tells leading musicians of the day, led by Josquin, to dress themselves in mourning.

Ockeghem's death was felt keenly across Europe.  Famed philosopher Desiderius Erasmus offered this tribute: "All of you who are possessed by the sweet study of music, weep, and bear the man off with praises of his Apollonian art´┐Ż"The golden voice of Ockeghem, that once resounded through hallowed halls, is stilled. Once it caressed the tears of angels, and swayed the hearts of men, too, to their depths. What have you done, 0 envious death?"


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