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February 22, 2005

Submerging the Vocal Ego

Amazon

Among the many improbable trends of the classical recording industry in the last couple of decades, a particularly happy one revolves around the head-spinning success of the female a cappella quartet known as Anonymous 4. Their first recording ( An English Ladymass) soon established a pattern of bestselling releases beautifully produced and packaged by the ensemble's label, Harmonia Mundi. But that was hardly to be expected, especially given how much of the repertoire explored on their programs involves a time travel into areas that seem completely exotic to modern-day ears. Anonymous 4 has also faced hotly contested issues within musicological circles about how to be "historically informed" when it comes to interpreting and presenting early music.

The foursome--Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jaqueline Horner (who replaced Ruth Cunningham in 1998), and Johanna Maria Rose--nevertheless went on to set their own patterns of success with thoughtfully researched programs inspired by varying aspects of the medieval world and presented with a rich sense of context. They've also explored some contemporary composers whose music reverberates with the spiritual focus of ages past, including Richard Einhorn and John Tavener.

With its 18th release, The Origin of Fire, the group presents its official swan song, having made their farewell tour in 2004. As Marsha Genensky recalls, there have been many adventures since a fledgling Anonymous 4 gave its first concert in 1986 to a tiny audience in a Manhattan church. Ironically, the ensemble at first avoided the music of Hildegard of Bingen for fear of being pigeonholed as a "female group." But on their swan song CD, the performance feels like a homecoming--and a summation of everything that distinguishes Anonymous 4. Fans will have a difficult time coming to terms with what is the early-music equivalent of the breakup of the Beatles. Genensky shared her reflections with Amazon.com senior editor Thomas May on Anonymous 4's origins, the technical and emotional challenges of Hildegard's music, how it relates to the group's own identity, and what comes next as each member goes solo. Read the interview here but buy the CD here.

Posted by acapnews at February 22, 2005 12:19 AM