ANONYMOUS 4, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah, Wednesday
Always known for its authoritative interpretations of early music in concerts and on numerous recordings, Anonymous 4 has recently branched out and embraced a new and wider repertoire.
Thanks to a yearlong hiatus from performing, Anonymous 4 returned to the concert hall with new works that are far removed from the early polyphonic music with which the ensemble made its reputation, but which definitively underscore the group's vocal versatility.
Anonymous 4 (Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer and Jacqueline Horner) made a long overdue return visit to Salt Lake City Wednesday. In many ways it was the same old group that sang here years ago (although Cunningham wasn't with the others at that time). Wednesday's 90-minute concert was notable for the quartet's trademark performance traits: impeccable artistry, flawless intonation, perfect execution and crisp articulation.
But at the same time, it was also a totally different ensemble than before. That was highlighted by the program the foursome chose to sing it was both the old and new Anonymous 4.
The old ensemble was represented by the Ladymass that comprised the first half of the concert. A Ladymass is a service in the Roman Catholic tradition that extols extols the Virgin Mary. The work they sang Wednesday was a complete Mass, but culled from various sources. It re-ecreated what would have been sung in the 13th and early 14th centuries, when this music was composed. (A Ladymass, but with different music, was also Anonymous 4's first CD.)
Music from this era quite naturally sounds foreign to modern ears for a number of reasons, not the least of which are the bare open harmonies and the simplistic and frequently uniform rhythmic patterns. Yet this in no way distracts from the sheer beauty of the music. This music has emotional power and depth, which was brought out compellingly in Anonymous 4's masterly performance.
The new Anonymous 4 returned to the stage after intermission in a set of American sacred music from the folk tradition. This is a repertoire that the group discovered while on hiatus, and which they sang Wednesday with decisiveness and authority.While it may seem worlds apart stylistically, there are some striking similarities between early polyphonic music and American sacred songs. The music is quite stunning in its simplicity, however, and the group captured that beauty with its lyrical singing.