Friday, December 11, 1998
Lionheart at The Kennedy Center, Tuesday, December 8, 1998
Lionheart, six mellifluous men singing motets, carols and antiphons of medieval England, opened the National Symphony Orchestra's Baroque and Before Festival Tuesday evening at the Kennedy Center with "Tydings Trew: Feasts of Christmas." As distant strains of plainsong filtered through the back of the Terrace Theater, the sell-out audience turned to find the sound like curious children. Gradually the Sarum chant "A solis ortus cardine," with origins in Salisbury Cathedral, became louder as the processing choristers descended through the aisles toward the bare stage. The a cappella carols that followed were not always rooted in liturgical celebrations. Back then, caroling celebrated lusty wanton pursuits. A leader sang a risqu� verse and the group chanted a response while everybody danced to the refrains. The Franciscan monks who embedded Christian celebrations in everyday English life used some of the old melodies with religious lyrics.
To a man, Lionheart sang with limpid precision, pronouncing the mix of Latin and English lyrics without a whiff of the over-enunciation that distorts some choral efforts. There was a spellbinding quality to the singing by countertenor Lawrence Lipnik, tenors John Olund and Daniel Clark Smith, baritones Jeffrey Johnson and Richard Porterfield and bass Kurt-Owen Richards. Using the acoustic options creatively for the hymn to Saint Stephen, the singers split into the back corners of the stage with one trio singing the words and the other group holding sustained notes. For the refrain in "Lully lulla . . . O sisters too" the group modified the voice parts so that each repetition was different, ending in a hushed lullaby. They left as they arrived, circling the stage and chanting the liturgy for the Epiphany. A sustained ovation brought the distinguished group of New Yorkers back for two encores, a winter carol and "Meet Me in Dreamland" delivered with more than an iota of camp by these modern monks.
-- L. Peat O'Neil