Albuquerque Journal

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Lionheart Singers Create Intense Musical Communion

By Joanne Sheehy Hoover
For the Journal
    Saturday in the Old Church of Corrales the all-male vocal ensemble Lionheart created a level of beauty and purity rarely found these days in either secular or sacred realms. The program was a testimony to many things, not the least being the skill and wisdom with which the Corrales Cultural Arts Council has developed its concert series into one of the area's most rewarding.
    The night before these six men had filled the St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe with religious music of the 13th century. On this evening they moved forward three centuries to Palestrina, one of the Roman Catholic Church's greatest musical servants and one of music's greatest translators of the sacred into sound. His works transcend time and denomination, but for those raised in the older Catholic tradition, the Latin religious texts, with the strength of centuries embedded in them, must have tripped some Proustian-like memories.
    There also was an uncanny rightness in the timing of this concert, coming as this country is in the midst of a controversial war. The music fell like a restorative balm, reminding of matters eternal.
    The program began with sounds of a Gregorian chant coming from the churchyard, growing ever louder as one by one the six entered through the front door and made their way to the front. Dressed in black suits, evocative of but not exactly the priestly garb, they then proceeded to hold the audience for an hour, uninterrupted by applause, in an intense musical communion.
    How do they manage to make this esoteric realm of music an immediate and compelling experience for a contemporary audience? Even caught up in the spell, the question kept running through my mind. The group's sheer musical capacity is enormous. Its sound is vibrant and virile, the control of tone singular in its subtlety, the perfection of the blend and the seamless unity of projection breathtaking in its seeming effortlessness. Its style is exquisitely yet not preciously refined, their phrasing elegant, shaped with a keen ear and a sharp intelligence.
    At the deepest level, it enters fully into the aesthetic of another age. Becoming a pure channel the members' voices give fresh life to the beauty of the past. But these singers are also of our time. Even if it tried, Lionheart could not keep contemporary feelings from seeping into its interpretations.
    Ancient notes take on new meaning as they are filtered through the group's completely modern sensibility. That sensibility includes a spirited joy and a delicious playfulness, given free rein in the one encore, an impish, Barbershop-Quartet-Supreme rendering of "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland."
    The pleasures, many and continuous, included the suppleness and variety of Palestrina's writing as in a "Sanctus" that alternated between solemn purity and a tumbling richness of entries. There was color and, in terms of the time, emotional expressiveness from Tomas Luis de Victoria, his Spanish pupil, and warmth from his less imposing compatriot Costanzo Festa.

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