The Albuquerque Journal (online version
March 27, 2016
Review by D.S. Crafts
Celebrating masterworks from and inspired by the Renaissance, Maxine Thévenot's
Polyphony (Voices of New Mexico) presented a gorgeous tapestry of sound Friday
night. The program offered primarily liturgical works ranging from the 16th to
the 20th century. Directing a carefully chosen group of singers, Thévenot
conducts with a minimum of gesture eliciting a maximum effect—the mark
of a master conductor.
The concert both opened and closed with music of the Elizabethan period by the
two primary figures of that era, William Byrd and Thomas Tallis. Byrd's emotionally
stirring Ave verum corpus set the tone of the presentation, featuring
in superbly focused sound and impeccable intonation perfectly situated to the
opulent acoustic environment of the Cathedral of St. John.
From the heart of the Italian Renaissance, Palestrina's setting of O Sacrum
became a glowing depiction of angels singing. This pure, triad-rich work was
contrasted with a 20th c. setting of the same text by Olivier Messiaen where
a major or minor triad is hardly to be found.
Of his Missa Brevis William Walton once said, "Remembering the
boredom I suffered as a dear little choirboy, I've made it a point of making
it as brevissima
as possible." The ensemble traversed the skillful part-writing of the Kyrie
and the largely antiphonal sound of the ensuing Sanctus and Benedictus, converging
in forte eight-part harmony at "Hosanna in the highest."
The eclectically stylized Miserere mei of James MacMillan offered an extreme
contrast to the famous work of the same text by Allegri. For a century Allegri's
work was the exclusive property of the Catholic Church used for the highest holidays,
until that brat Mozart came along and wrote it down in what today would be considered
a severe copyright infringement. The work is known for its half-dozen repetitions
of an extremely high and hypnotic phrase written for castrato voice, sung here
most effectively by soprano Jennifer Perez.
Carlo Gesualdo originated the concept of extreme chromaticism in music, a development
for which the musical public would not be ready for another three centuries.
A small contingent of Polyphony brilliantly performed his madrigal Moro,
with its challenging twistings and turnings of unorthodox harmonic progressions.
Anton Bruckner is known as much for his long symphonies as he is for his short
choral works. His setting of Locus iste, with its touching and beautiful melody,
effectively represented the Romantic period.
Known primarily as one of the outstanding cellists of the 19th century, Pablo
Casals also composed music. His O vos omnes is a miniature gem which Polyphony
performed with a wide range of carefully controlled dynamics. Two short but entrancing
works by the 16th c. Spanish composer Tomas Luis de Victoria, including his O
vos omnes, completed the printed program. The encore was If ye love
me by Thomas
Tallis, perhaps the most famous of all choral works from the English Renaissance.