Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, May 4, 1999

Anonymous 4 and Lionheart Bring an Ancient Art to Life

By JOHN HENKEN, Special to The Times

For many of us, Johannes Ockeghem is at most a ghost from textbooks past. But for the singers of Anonymous 4 and Lionheart he is the source of marvelously fresh and vastly influential music, heard Sunday afternoon at UCLA's Royce Hall.

Two of early music's most cherished vocal ensembles, the four women of Anonymous 4--with soprano Jacqueline Horner now replacing Ruth Cunningham--and the six men of Lionheart have combined for a 10-city tour that was to end Monday evening in Irvine. The matchups of musicians and music is certainly felicitous, joining otherworldly purity with firmly rooted expressivity on several levels.

The Ockeghem of the textbooks was the supreme master of 15th century polyphony, an arcane art that makes the elaborate techniques of the 20th century serialists seem like child's play. This canny, intermissionless tour program, however, is built around his Missa Mi-Mi, a mass setting generally free of the artifices of mechanical ingenuity.

Instead, overlapping waves of pure melodic inspiration sustain this remarkable work. The fount of these supple lines is, of course, chant. The singers included appropriate chant portions of the mass, providing a musical as well as a liturgical context.

Paradoxically, this close connection to an art that was ancient even in Ockeghem's time is one of the things that makes this music seem so fresh and free. Ockeghem was not so much a transitional as a bifocal composer, looking both upstream and downstream with a vocal ideal that resonates today with many of the more mystical Minimalists.

In any combination, from one voice to 10, the singing was assured and direct. Clarity and balance we expected--the degree of individual nuance supported within the blend was revelatory. The dynamic range was limited, with articulation taking its place in effect and characterization.

The program also included three of Ockeghem's Marian motets, reminding us of his expertise with contrapuntal constructs. But he also knew how to build climaxes, and with singing of such immediacy, the effect was far more sensory than intellectual.

To conclude there was the magnificent Deploration that Josquin des Pres composed at Ockeghem's death. A monument in its own right, it is a moving tribute to that era's "Prince of Musicians" and again displayed the command of texture and point that belongs to Anonymous 4 and Lionheart.

Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved


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