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An Admirable Yet Somewhat Anemic 'Love's' Life

February 08, 1995|SUSAN BLISS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — The four scholarly performers who call themselves Anonymous 4 brought their show to the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Monday night. Dubbed "Love's Illusion," the program's mixture of readings and motets drew from 13th-Century texts that were often earthy, ardent and venturesome. Yet, onstage, all was polished and oh-so-gentle.

There is much that medieval writers of love songs did not leave us, including their identities. Snippets of Gregorian chant suggest the composers were monks, while the worldly lyrics might have been written either by the monks or courtiers.

Whoever they were, they did not indicate tempos or dynamics or instrumentation. Consequently, their songs are usually sung, as in this case, with a bloodless lack of contrasts except for fanciful changes of accompanying forces, an option that these musicians--Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer and Johanna Rose--chose to forgo in order to explore the pure blending of their neatly matched, high voices.

Performed in this fashion, one 13th-Century French motet is engaging. Its lines crisscross with captivating freshness. Its dissonances speak eloquently. Its repetitive rhythms charm.

After three or four, one longs for a good joust.

The women must realize that, for they keep their programs short and intersperse literature of the period between sets of songs. On this occasion--sponsored by the Orange County Philharmonic Society--selections from Andreas Capellanus' 13th-Century treatise, "The Art of Courtly Love," were given pale, stylized readings.

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