Anonymous 4's 'Noel' concert: Holiday in harmony

Friday, December 17, 2010; 10:20 PM

The artistry of the female vocal quartet Anonymous 4 has never been about melding near-identical voices into a homogeneous whole. Rather, what makes this group special is the way it forges a sweetly concordant sound from a set of significantly different voice types.

The uniqueness of those voices was showcased at the group's a cappella concert, "Noel: Four Centuries of Christmas," at the Terrace Theater on Thursday. Each member of Anonymous 4 (which has changed personnel over the ensemble's 24-year history, yet has retained its distinctive vocal personality) sang an early-music solo from their most recent Christmas CD, "The Cherry Tree." Susan Hellauer's earthy, folky, straight-toned alto in "Tydings Trew" occupied a different stylistic world than Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek's classically honed, richly glowing soprano in "The Song of the Nuns of Chester." And there was a wealth of difference between the fragile purity - so like that of a boy treble - in Ruth Cunningham's delivery of "Lullay My Child," and the no-nonsense way Marsha Genensky hooked into the notes of "The Cherry Tree Carol" with a rural-American twang.

Yet all of these singers offered the kind of carefully molded phrasing and subtle musicianship that made this intermission-less, 75-minute concert (covering a range of music from the Middle Ages to the present day) an arresting listen: In plainsong selections, their disparate sounds found common ground, while such carols as contemporary composer John Tavener's pungent William Blake setting, "The Lamb," and William Billings's 18th-century fugue, "Bethlehem," drew striking timbral counterpoint from this crazy quilt of voices.

- Joe Banno

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