Reviews

St. Paul (MN) Pioneer Press, Monday, November 30, 1998

Lionheart delivers the original, untainted goods

MICHAEL FLEMING Classical Music Critic

In the Bleak Mid-Winter," sang the six members of Lionheart as an encore to their Sunday concert on the Music in the Park Series. "Now is the Month of Maying" might have better suited the balmy weather. But the calendar proclaimed the first Sunday in Advent, and Lionheart welcomed the holiday season with style and grace.

It is no snap putting together a Christmas program these days. Some beloved carols have been rubbed so hard they shine like a cheap suit. And rarities do not always warm the hearts of an audience.  Lionheart solved the problem with a blend of musicological savvy, liturgical coherence and warm-hearted singing.

The program started late, so that every eager listener could press into the church - this was a Twin Cities debut for the ensemble. Once begun, the concert moved swiftly and surely through the church year, from Annunciation to the Epiphany, unearthing treasures at every stop.

There was a judicious mix of chant, solemn polyphony and lively carols, all drawn from the repertoire of 15th- and 16th-century England. The singers used the space well, beginning and ending out side the body of the church, then grouping and regrouping in different configurations to point up the varied textures of the music.

Unlike the women's ensemble Anonymous 4, with which the all-male Lion heart often joins forces, these six men opt for a tone lightly touched with vibrato. Each voice in the ensemble rings true, as one could tell when they passed by in procession. But the emphasis was on blend rather than individuality of line.

Some in the audience must have been confused by Lionheart's pronunciations. Instead of the textbook, Italianate pronunciation of Latin that every choral singer learns in high school, they favored a more authentic Anglo-Latin. This is just the way English singers enunciated their psalms and antiphons before the mid 19th century. There was music both high and low on the program. At one end of the scale was the motet "Gaude Virgo mater Christi," by William Cornyshe. At the other, such vernacular items as the "Coventry Carol," here performed in its original setting.

There were no bells or whistles on the program, just superb singing. No gimmicks were necessary: Lionheart delivered the original, untainted goods.

 

Lionheart is represented exclusively by Bernstein Artists and records for Koch International.

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