Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Review: Lionheart

Nov. 5, University of Richmond

Lionheart, the a cappella sextet of countertenor Lawrence Lipnik, tenors John Olund and Michael Ryan-Wenger, baritones Jeffrey Johnson and Richard Porterfield and bass Kurt-Owen Richards, sang perhaps its most historically wide-ranging touring program, "Wayfaring Stranger," in its visit to Richmond.

This set of medieval, Renaissance and contemporary pieces is titled after the familiar Anglo-American folk hymn, sung as a unison introit and reprised in shape-note-style and modern harmonizations.

"Wayfaring Stranger" keeps unexpected company: 13th- and 14th-century liturgical and troubadour songs for three and four voices, the polyphony of 16th-century masters Cipriano de Rore ("Calami sonum") and Giovanni Palestrina ("Litaniae de Beata Virgine Maria"), Marc-AndrĂ© Dalbavie’s setting of Ezra Pound ("Chants") and gospel-inflected American pop (Laura Nyro’s "When I Die").

That last one, in this context, could easily sound like bling draped on a madonna – and the arrangement’s segue in and out of the Dies Irae, like a rose window in a double-wide – but the group makes it work by emphasizing the refrain’s spiritual continuity: "And when I die, and when I’m gone, there’ll be one child born in this world to carry on."

Lionheart lavished tone and feeling on the Dalbavie and Palestrina, the program’s artistic summits; but the singers were just as musically scrupulous and communicative in lighter selections.

The barbershop-quartet staple "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland," which the group frequently sings as an encore, is a conscious bit of highbrow self-deprecation. For some listeners, though, it must be an unwelcome return to earth from the heights of the Renaissance.