On Yoolis Night, Anonymous 4 (Harmonia Mundi, 1993)
An English Ladymass, Anonymous 4 (Harmonia Mundi, 1993)
Two things that made Anonymous 4's performances so good remained true nevertheless: they sing exquisite and rarely heard repertory, transcribed expertly by one of their members, musicologist Susan Hellauer, and they sing it with an ascetic simplicity that is precious to my ears. The only sound during this concert, of music selected from their various recordings (including those two shown here), was singing -- no talking from the artists, and no instrumental sound, with pitches taken silently from a pitchfork and then sung to the others. If the audience had taken the hint printed in the program -- admittedly in letters that were probably too small for most to notice -- and not applauded after every damn piece, it would have been perfectly austere.
Many of the pieces sounded much like they do on the group's excellent recordings, discs that are regular listening in our house during Advent and Christmastide. One thing that did change in some of the chant pieces, like the opening Gregorian hymn, Vox clara ecce intonat, was a shift from the more unmetered Solesmes approach to chant, the "equalist" interpretation where each note, single or in neumes, receives one "beat" that can be lengthened by an episema or other indication. In a nod to more recent theories about what some forms of chant notation may indicate, this piece was sung with more long and short values, although not strictly metrical, as another carol remained, Gabriele from Heven-king, a gorgeous Middle English version of the Latin carol Angelus ad virginem. (I believe that one piece, the conductus Ave Maria gracia plena, from their La Bele Marie disc, was cut from the concert program.)
Cecelia H. Porter, A cappella group Anonymous 4 at the Kennedy Center (Washington Post, December 13)