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 www.polyphonynm.com/
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.