PioneerPlanet / St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press

Lionheart in Chautauqua* WHO: Lionheart
* WHEN: Sunday evening, July 30, 2000
* WHERE: Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN
* CAPSULE: Exemplary performances of a diverse program of rarely-heard early music.
Published: Monday, July 31, 2000


William Randall Beard Special to the Pioneer Press

Orchestra Hall was barely a third full on Sunday evening for a special performance by the male vocal sextet Lionheart. They were one of the novelties of this year's Minnesota Orchestra Viennese Sommerfest, performing a program of 12th Century French chant and polyphony.

Clearly, this is a more esoteric program than the more familiar Strauss waltzes and Mozart symphonies. But audience members willing to take the risk were treated to a remarkably varied and moving program.

This is music at the very beginning of the Western tradition. The earliest liturgical chant had only been codified around 600 A.D., during the reign of Pope Gregory (hence Gregorian Chant). And it was even more recently, in the 11th century, that a system had been devised to actually notate it.

Most of these compositions even predate the traditional notions of harmony and rhythmic fidelity. The tempos are flexible, the music fluid, which gives it an undulating and ethereal feel.  This is not the most accessible music to contemporary ears, but Lionheart makes it as easy as possible,  The sextet is made up of countertenor Lawrence Lipnik, tenors Michael Ryan-Wenger and John Olund, baritones Richard Porterfield and Jeffrey Johnson and bass Kurt-Owen Richards.

They are fully steeped in the style's scholarly traditions, but they have fun with it as well. And their enjoyment was contagious.  There was a nice theatricality to their performance, processing in and out while chanting, fully exploiting the unearthly quality of the music.  They made creative use of the Orchestra Hall stage, arranging and moving bodies to illuminate the different works. But they never got busy or gimmicky. Their performance had the simplicity befitting the works' roots in liturgy.

To all but the most initiated ear, there is an inevitable sameness to the style. They overcame this with astute programming. Combining works for various combinations of voices gave a variety to the presentation.  There were brief pieces juxtaposed with longer, multi-movement works. There was music from the simplicity of Gregorian chant, a single voice unadorned, to fiercely ornamented works in six-part harmony.

Even the non-liturgical pieces and the secular music left a spiritual essence that resonated through the space. This is sensuous music and Lionheart successfully communicated both its passion and its austerity.


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