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January 10, 2004


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Anonymous 4, the New York-based, female vocal quartet known around the world for its ethereal interpretations of centuries-old European sacred music, has turned its attention to the music of this country. The group, consisting of Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner and Johanna Maria Rose, performed a program of American folk hymns, gospel songs, camp revival songs and psalm tunes at the Pabst Theater Friday evening for an audience of 900 hushed listeners. The same pure, a cappella sound, sure harmonies and uncluttered interpretations with which the women have carved a significant niche in the early music world were applied to the plaintive melodies and longing lyrics of an earlier America.

The women gave earnest, soulful deliveries of these deeply spiritual melodies. As they made their way through the 90-minute program, which was performed without intermission, one could hear bits of early America's British roots and also the seeds of what would become the American folk, gospel and country music we know today. The program, called "American Angels," mixed familiar tunes with unfamiliar and included lyrics set sometimes to an expected melody and sometimes in a uncommon setting. The women took "Shall We Gather at the River" and "Sweet By and By," hymn tunes we are accustomed to hearing in hackneyed Hollywood renditions, and made them new again. They balanced musical intensity and gentle sounds to bring the hymns' vivid imagery into clear focus, illuminating the old melodies and familiar lyrics. The lyrics to "Amazing Grace" appeared in three distinctly different musical settings, each one giving the tune a unique meaning.

"Wondrous Love," a staple of today's choral repertoire, was also heard in an eye-opening setting that gave new meaning to each word of the often-heard lyrics. The smoothly blended sound of the four women singing in close harmony, or sometimes in solos, duos and trios, gave a unique dimension to the music. One heard the loss and hardship of the lives that relied on this music for comfort. Using gospel songs such as "Angel Band" and "Idumea," the fuging tune "Blooming Vale" and the folk hymn "Wayfaring Stranger," the women sang of hard lives and simple faith and handled our American sacred music with tremendous dignity and respect. The women answered enthusiastic applause with an encore.

Posted by acapnews at January 10, 2004 8:40 AM


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