Female a cappella group Anonymous 4 presented a captivating program at the Lobero last week as part of the 2011-12 CAMA Masterseries. In celebration of their 25th anniversary, the group has put together a program called “Anthology 25,” and it revisits each of the many wonderful (and often million-selling) CDs the group has recorded over the years for the harmonia mundi label. The result, a kind of medieval-to-modern night of greatest hits, left an appreciative audience spellbound.
The program was performed without intermission and was organized into three and four-piece segments by means of thematic classification, with themes ranging from “Visions and Miracles,” to “Sisterhood,” “Partings,” and even “Ardor.” Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, and Jaqueline Horner-Kwiatek each took solo turns, typically at the opening of a thematic segment, and in between, the group came together for a startling array of mostly medieval forms, from the Antiphons of Hildegard von Bingen to Motets from the Codex Las Huelgas, the latter part of a recent recording project devoted to the polyphony of renegade Cistercian nuns that the 4 have released on CD as Secret Voices.
Two of the evening’s most memorable moments, however, came on pieces that were written in this century, not the 13th. Composer David Lang’s 2011 song “the wood and the vine” is a haunting contemporary take on the medieval ballad and managed to sound both authentic and utterly fresh. “The Scientist,” a quirky piece commissioned by New York’s public radio station WNYC, showed both Anonymous 4 and composer Richard Einhorn at their absolute best, combining the group’s ravishing harmonies with minimalist overlapping rhythms to great effect.