Reviews

 

The Albuquerque Journal (online version only)
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 the 18-voice ensemble 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 convivium, 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, lasso, 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.