The Albuquerque Journal
December 16, 2011
Review by D.S. Crafts

Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico has in only a few years established itself the state’s premiere chamber chorus. That is due in no small part to the group’s founder and director Maxine Thévenot, a musical force to be reckoned with. Besides Polyphony, she also directs the UNM women’s chorus Las Cantantes, music at St. John’s Cathedral and is a concert organist with several solo recordings to her credit.

Friday night the women’s contingent of Polyphony performed its seasonal concert concurrent with the release of its first CD, Winter: An Evocation. The center piece of the concert and the CD is Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, most usually done with a boys choir, but here, as it was at its premiere in 1942, sung by women’s voices. It would be hard to overpraise this performance. Not only was the sound crisp, clean and with razor-point intonation, but there was an exuberance and vivacity of spirit making each piece glow with colorful sonority. As a conductor, Thévenot knows exactly what she wants and precisely how to get it from the performers. And she does it with deceptively minimal effort.

The group began at the back of St. John’s moving forward singing the Procession, as is traditional. The resonant acoustics of the cathedral are precisely what this work was designed for. Wolcum yole! ended with a beautifully sculpted pianissimo. This Little Babe, sung in close cannon, creates its own “stadium echo”except that the resulting harmonic effect is precisely crafted to result in exquisite music, not sonic noise. Deo Gracias sparkled with electricity until the group retreated to the back singing the final Recession. Harpist Lynn Gorman DeVelder[cq] accompanied the voices in perfect compliment. Her solo Interlude was the sound of delicate gossamer. If heaven is said to be filled with celestial harps, this was Heaven indeed. ndividual voices also came to the front, especially several solos from the gorgeous soprano of Jennifer Perez[cq] including the memorable major-to-minor shifting of Balulalow. Rebecca Hellbom[cq] and Meredith Wilder[cq] blended seemlessly in duets. The CD recording of this work, which I recommend most highly, can be obtained through Polyphony’s website The second half of the program featured lyrical, melodic contemporary works as well as traditional carols. Winter: An Evocation, the title of the CD, is taken from the poem by Walter de la Mare, heard here in an atmospheric setting by Canadian composer Andrew Ager. Its lengthy instrumental prelude provided another welcome opportunity to hear DeVelder’s harp. Salve Regina by Miklos Kocsar of Hungary clearly reflects the exceptionally rich Eastern European choral tradition. Its outburst of the voices in highest register in close harmony is most effective. The gentle I sing of a Maiden by Patrick Hadley led into three traditional carols, The Holly and the Ivy, the Carol of the Bells with its charming transformation of voices into pealing bells, and finally Silent Night in which the audience was encouraged to sing along.