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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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