The Kansas City Star, April 25, 1999

Anonymous 4 and Lionheart offer dazzling rendition of early music

By SCOTT CANTRELL, The Kansas City Star

It is good for us to be here" � so the Gospels have St. Peter saying to the transfigured Jesus. And so one felt for an hour and a quarter Sunday afternoon, to be transported back to the 15th century, on wings of song from the great Flemish composer Johannes Ockeghem.

The occasion was a rare joint appearance by the distinguished early-music vocal ensembles Anonymous 4 (four women) and Lionheart (six men). In a supportively reverberant setting, we heard the movements of Ockeghem's "Missa Mi-Mi" interspersed (as they would have been in liturgical use) with motets by Ockeghem and lessons and other texts sung to plainsong.

Five centuries may have passed since Ockeghem trod this earth, but no composer before or since has so exquisitely captured ecstasy in music.

High voices sometimes soared and twined in the stratosphere, like strands of incense smoke (the opening of the motet "Alma redemptoris mater"). At other times close-wrought polyphony had vocal lines sliding by one another, their friction setting the music aglow (the "Kyrie" from the Mass, and "Ave Maria").

And then there were moments when the composer luxuriated in one astonishing harmony after another. The final phrase of the motet "Salve Regina' - "O sweet Virgin Mary" -was delivered in progressions so sensuous as to make Richard Strauss sound chaste.

The effect of ecstasy was heightened by music free of bar lines and regular beats: Something was lost in Western music when dance rhythms overtook free vocalism.

The performances were of beauty passing understanding: voices silken and sweet and flawlessly tuned, phrase lovingly molded, the music ever buoyant. If anything, one almost craved a little more of the edge that boys' voices (for which the high parts were written) would have brought. And, even allowing for conjectural French-Renaissance pronunciation of Latin, the absence of a single audible consonant made the texts hard to follow. The concert ended with Josquin des Pres� "Deploration" on the death of Ockeghem, a man reportedly as admirable in person as in his music. This was a lament no less heartrending for the passage of five centuries, but the sudden clarity of harmony at the final phrase "May he rest in peace" was at once benediction and transfiguration.


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