"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
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
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