Anonymous 4 to perform at St. John's

April 15, 1994|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Special to The Sun

1993 was a strange time in classical music; a year when four anonymous women singing obscure chants and songs from 13th- and 14th-century England clobbered Pavarotti, Rampal and Galway on the charts.

The Anonymous 4 they call themselves, and their "English Ladymass" (Harmonia Mundi 907080) was indeed the release of the year at the world's record stores. It topped the Billboard classical charts for many weeks, and CD Review dubbed it "Classical Disc of the Year."

Area music lovers will be able to hear this early music phenomenon in concert this evening at St. John's College where the Anonymous 4 will perform their now-famous reconstruction of the Mass to the Virgin Mary that was offered daily in the Lady Chapel of Britain's Salisbury Cathedral some seven centuries ago.

Unison chants, motets and more complicated polyphonic pieces make up the Mass, which will be augmented with poetry and readings narrated in Middle English.

In truth, these singers aren't anonymous at all. Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer and Johanna Rose constitute the quartet in residence at St. Michael's Church in New York City.

What accounts for their astounding popularity? Well, they are the first female quartet to venture into the medieval liturgy, works traditionally reserved more for the monks than for nuns. The lilting melismas of their music have a New Age feel to them that crosses the music over to a whole new batch of eager listeners.

Let's face it, though; medieval chant in the wrong hands can be even duller than soccer. What ultimately distinguishes the "Ladymass" is the remarkable artistry of the women themselves.

"I would I were a weaver, I could sing Psalms or anything," says Falstaff in Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Part 1."

The Anonymous 4 merit all the fuss because they are among the most elegant weavers around.

The Anonymous 4 will perform at 8:15 p.m. in the Key Auditorium on the campus of St. John's College. Admission is free. Information: 626-2539.

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