Review

Early Music Now presents Anonymous 4

By - Dec 13th, 2009 01:59 pm
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Hidden within the fortress-like headquarters of the School Sisters of St. Francis on Layton Boulevard is a small, exquisite chapel that overflows with ecclesiastical architectural ornament. Singers and chamber musicians love its ringing, yet manageable acoustics.

Early Music Now brought Anonymous 4 to the chapel for a concert Saturday. Anonymous 4’s unadorned, straight tone rose to its full power and grace in this particularly resonant space, which the three  female singers played like an instrument.

Anonymous 4.

Anonymous 4.

Due to a sudden health situation involving member Ruth Cunningham, A4 was reduced to A3. Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer and Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek carried on without apparent problems.  Despite its seeming simplicity, this singing style and music requires constant, highly focused concentration, as well as unwavering intonation.Their great sense of ensemble and intelligent blending produced their trademark fluid, meditative sound.

They traced Christmas caroling back several centuries. The program focused on the so-very-human Cherry Tree Carol, in which Joseph, whose faith in the divine origins of Mary’s pregnancy falters, refuses to pick cherries for her. “Let the father of your baby” pick them, he scoffs. At Jesus’ command, the tree bends down and Mary gets her fill, “while Joseph stood around.”

Variations on this theme of Mary’s goodness and Christ’s divinity transcending human fears flowed through music sung in Middle English, Latin and English. The theme persisted through time periods and styles, from the plainsong and polyphony of the middle ages to the spare folk hymns of early America and on through bluegrass interpretations.

The solo and ensemble virtuosity won over an appreciative capacity audience of more than 600. The sound of vocal clarity and intelligent interpretation, hanging in the clear air of an architectural and acoustic masterpiece, delivered power and pleasure seldom encountered in this age of over-amplification, over-singing and auto-tuners. Anonymous 4’s singing was rare, real and revelatory.

Click here to read Tom Strini’s interview with A4’s Susan Hellauer.

Other reviews: Elaine Schmidt

Categories: Classical

0 thoughts on “Review: Early Music Now presents Anonymous 4”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I was there as well–thank you for the beautiful review, Ellen! It was an amazing concert.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I was there, if only in spirit, as I was singing with Milwaukee Choristers Saturday, and in Lessons and Carols at the Cathedral
    of St John (downtown) on Sunday. I did have the pleasure of see-
    ing them perform at Alverno College a few years ago, and I believe
    with Milwaukee Choral Artists as well. A phenomenal group, well
    honed and so etherial

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