Reviews

 

"Vocal ensemble is pitch-perfect, with panache"
Review by D.S. Crafts
The Albuquerque Journal
May 27, 2011

The a cappella vocal group Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico prides itself that all its members are residents of the Land of Enchantment. Indeed, from the concert given on Sunday, hosted by the Placitas Arts Series, there is certainly no need for imported "ringers."

I had not heard the group sing before, but certainly I will make every effort to hear it again. The ensemble boasts a unified blend of voices top to bottom with impeccable intonation.

But what most impressed me was the enthusiasm and vivacity with which the group sang. There is a great sense of camaraderie and surely no shrinking violet voices here. Founded in 2006, Polyphony carries as many as 35 singers. A somewhat smaller group sang at the Las Placitas Presbyterian Church.

Maxine Thévenot directs the chorus. In addition to her many achievements she also is the Organist and Director of Cathedral music at the Cathedral Church of St. John. She elicits huge and brilliant sounds with a minimum of conducting movement – the mark of one who has the utmost confidence in her singers.

The afternoon began with “Kua Rongo,”a traditional Maori (Native New Zealand) welcome song, which the group chanted as it proceeded up the main aisle to the stage. The singers were dressed in black with each individual ornamented in a colorful scarf or tie. From then on the program offered a heavy emphasis on the English/Irish pastoral tradition, more acclaimed for its art than its music, yet there is much of great beauty here as the selection amply demonstrated.

In addition to the more well-known composers such as Holst, Elgar and Vaughan Williams, the secondary figures of this turn-of-the-century school still enjoy an active performance life in the British Isles particularly. Frank Bridge (a teacher of Benjamin Britten) was represented by two disparate songs. The amusing and playful “The Bee”preceded a very touching setting of Shelley’s famous poem “Music, when soft voices die,”using chromaticism to reflect emotional depth.

Edward Elgar’s ardent “As Torrents in Summer”brought a luxurious sonority. Two “bird”entries by C.V. Stanford completed the earlier begun “birds and bees”metaphor with “The Swallow,”and “The Blue Bird,”a very moving and atmospheric song that also featured excellent soprano singing.

A quick trip east opened the second half with Paranjoti’s “Dravidian Dithyramb,”based in Middle Eastern scales. Vaughan Williams’setting of Desdemona’s “Willow Song”from “Othello”fully exploited the rich, sonorous blend of Polyphony as it traversed the flush and characteristic harmonies of the style. Here, quite imaginatively, Vaughan Williams sets in duple time a verse essentially in beats of three.

Two American spirituals completed the afternoon, most impressively, a haunting rendition of “Steal Away.”

By all means expect to hear much more in future from this outstanding young ensemble.

Polyphony will perform Henry Mollicone's Beatitude Mass for the Homeless at 6 p.m. June 18 at the Cathedral Church of St. John. It benefits the Barrett House women's and children's shelter.