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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 6, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 18
Anonymous 4 underwhelms
Arts & Entertainment
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Anonymous 4 underwhelms

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Early Music Guild concert
April 30
Town Hall

You may remember a few weeks ago an article in these pages which described several non-musical elements that might affect how one hears a performance: one's mood, indigestion, musical history, etc. What I'm about to write may have been influenced by a negative mood: 'Damn that parking lot; they should have signage indicating you pay $1.58 more tax if you use a credit card than if you pay the man cash!' Or, perhaps the morning's superb Met Live in HD of Il Trovatore with some of the finest Verdi singing I heard in years filled my cup too full of high excitement to take in the low-key delights of a small, early music ensemble.

At any rate, this performance of the excellent group, Anonymous 4, found me rather bored most of the time. There was nothing wrong with their delivery: the blend was excellent, vocals were fine, and everything was done professionally. Plus, they employed a superb vielle player and a percussionist to add spice. Yet, I kept thinking of how wonderful these women sounded when last they appeared here. At that time, they sang with each of them at one of the four transept pillars of St. James Cathedral, and their voices excited the acoustics of that space in a magical way. Here, in the tricky, unexciting acoustic of Town Hall, they were standing close together on the stage. No sonic magic could happen.

The name of the program was 'Secret Voices: The Sisters of Las Huelgas.' All of the works performed were taken from the texts of these Cistercian nuns of the first quarter of the 14th century. Although these 'sisters' seem to have been shockingly free to perform as they wished and perhaps even a little earthy in their choice of music (sometimes taken from secular sources with only the words changed to protect the innocent!), one had to be in a more relaxed, receptive mood than mine to actually appreciate the variety and interest of this music. Proof of my lack of receptiveness is that I found that it all began to sound the same. My sentiments regarding organized religion made the texts, of course, of no interest whatsoever to me. But the same could be said of Bach's 'B Minor Mass,' a work I find nonetheless sublimely exciting.

The sold-out audience fortunately did not agree with my reaction and gave the group a standing ovation, which earned an encore. Anonymous 4 has released many CDs and has sold over 1.5 million of them.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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