I heard ANÚNA in concert on 12/27/20 (it was live on 12/20/20), part of the Live From London Christmas concert series. They’re a chamber choir from Ireland and their concert was done at a lovely old church in Dublin. It opened in a spooky manner: one of the women in the group walked down the center aisle of the church alone, holding a lit candle, and wearing a black velvet robe. She sang the Wexford Carol, which I love from the Julie Andrews recording. The director of the group, Michael McGlynn, said that it’s Ireland’s best-known Christmas carol. He did the arrangement, and either wrote the music or did the arrangement of every piece on the program. Here's a highlight reel from the concert, which opens with this spooky opening:
I had seen how many, about 15 or 20 concerts on this series and their spring series? They were all professionally done, with expert camera work and occasional cuts away from the concert for pre-recorded commentary. This concert featured something I hadn’t seen before: one of their female singers was singing her solo in “Qui Est Deus” (another spooky number). The camera panned in on her, switched to a fuzzy focus, and we had a double exposure of her standing on the beach, wearing her black velvet robe, looking meaningfully off into the crashing waves. It was bordering on camp and I chose to find it amusing rather than offensive.
The group had a beautiful, warm sound, and McGlynn’s music showed them off. One of the men in the group introduced “Dúlamán:” “A story that came over from Scotland and became very famous in the 70s, here in Ireland. It is a courting song about an ugly rich young man and ends in a kidnapping.” Hm! Not your typical holiday concert holly and ivy! This song was written for the men in the group and they knocked the ball out of the park, they had splendid thrust and really went after the fast and kooky text.
“Away in a Manger” was a favorite Christmas carol of mine as a child. The tune that ANÚNA sang wasn’t the carol I grew up singing, but another lovely tune that I once again knew from the Julie Andrews Christmas album! The solo in the ANÚNA was done by the conductor’s youngest daughter. She was sweet but it had more than a whiff of nepotism…
“St. Nicholas” featured one of the men in the group playing a handheld drum, that gave it a little boost. “Amhrán na gaoithe” had more harmonic complexity than the rest of the program, it was the highlight for me, it was great hearing the choir sing something more challenging. We were also treated to (subjected to?) more footage of crashing waves on the Irish coastline. Please…
“The First Day” opened with a solo by McGlynn - - I asked my good friend, the extraordinary flutist Stephanie Jutt, to identify the instrument he was playing and she said, “It’s a classic Irish whistle.” She told me to look at videos of Boys of the Lough. The Irish whistle comes in around 2:30 in this clip and there’s a flute in there, too:
Thank you, Stephanie, for your help on that subject!
McGlynn wrote a setting of the Sanctus from the Latin Mass that featured some extended vocal techniques, a metallic phonation that I might have only heard from the Meredith Monk ensemble. Here’s ANÚNA singing this piece - - you can hear what I’m talking about at 0:40, the metallic buzzing in the male voices:
What a treat to hear “O Holy Night” as a gentle choral number instead of a diva maxima in excelsis aria with choral backup. “Noel Nouvelet” was for the women in the group, and wow, they had pristinely perfect intonation.
McGlynn introduced “Pie Jesu” by saying this: “I wrote ‘Pie Jesu’ in 1998 in memory of those who died in the Omagh bombing. Tragedy has always been part of the history of Ireland, north and south, but this year tragedy has struck the whole world. I’d like to dedicate this piece to all of you out there who have had a year unlike any other we’ve ever had, and we all look forward to the future.” The piece was lovely but I felt like the musical ideas were a little thin.
They ended with a McGlynn arrangement of “Danny Boy,” which was gorgeous. I was struck again by their extraordinary tuning and blend.
The Wexford Carol
Quis Est Deus
An Oíche (The Night)
Away in a Manger
Siúil a Rúin
Amhrán na gaoithe/Song of the Wind
The First Day
O Holy Night
’Quis est Deus’, ‘An Oíche’, ‘Dúlamán’, ‘Song of the Wind’, ‘Sanctus’, ‘Midnight’, ‘Pie Jesu’ - music composed by Michael McGlynn. Other titles arranged Michael McGlynn.