Dona Nobis Pacem

Quire of Voyces. At St. Anthony’s Seminary Chapel, Saturday, December 16.

Reviewed by James Hanley Donelan

Rows of perfect Roman arches lead up to the altar at St. Anthony’s Seminary Chapel, where the Quire of Voyces, an a cappella choral group of 26 accomplished vocalists, sang underneath the serene gaze of the Holy Trinity on Saturday night. Nathan Kreizer, the founder and artistic director of the group, conducted this concert of Renaissance and modern sacred works with understated grace and elegance. In the program notes, Jennifer Rieke, the choir’s only soloist for this program, gave this advice to aspiring singers: “Always work on your vowels. And blend.” And so they did, allowing us to contemplate the beauty of peace, light, and sound.

The program’s juxtaposition of 17th- and 20th-century music made surprising sense, with the spare harmonies of Renaissance polyphony balancing well with the abstractions of modernist harmony. Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) wrote half the songs; William Byrd (1543-1623) and three living composers — Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, Michael McGlynn, and Jan Sandström — provided the rest. (For the vast majority of people who have never heard of these sacred music titans, Temmo Korisheli’s excellent program notes filled in the details.) Each brief song had a different texture and feel, yet the overall effect was to create a sense of divine principle manifesting itself in the human voice. No earthly drama or conflict disturbed the feeling of unity and wonder.

The most striking moment came at the end of Michael McGlynn’s “Lux aeterna,” when its mysteriously shifting harmonies came to rest in a sudden, unearthly shimmer. We sat in silence and then gasped in astonishment. The feeling of amazed delight continued throughout the rest of the concert and into the encore, when the choir found remarkable clarity and depth in “Silent Night.” Still, what came back to us as we walked out into a cold, starry night was a phrase from de Victoria’s “Agnus dei,” “Dona nobis pacem.” “Give us peace” has never sounded as heartfelt or as important as it does now.

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