400-Plus Years Of A Cappella With New York Polyphony

Le Poisson Rouge, 156 Bleecker Street, NYC; April 11, 2017—There were two remarkable things about the recent show at Le Poisson Rouge, the nightclub/music venue in New York’s Greenwich Village. Most important, of course, was the four-man group known as New York Polyphony–and I’ll get to them in a moment. But the event also heralded the debut of a new acoustic system at LPR called Immersia, which controls the sound of an environment itself: it can “tame” a heavy-metal concert and/or transform a space like LPR–essentially a metal box–into a replica of a concert hall or church. It is unnoticeable except in its clarity: you don’t feel or hear the manipulation.

Near the concert’s start, NY Polyphony sang the first line of a brief song by Orlando Lassus, La nuit froide et sombre, without acoustical assistance–clear and audible but flat sounding–and then with Immersia. Immediately the voices had an added warmth, difficult to describe, but present. The song itself is a beauty: it goes from describing a cold dark night to heaven and its glories. Lassus, always a great tone painter, drops the bass voice from the mix on the word “cieux” (heaven).

If there was a theme to the program, it was the passage of time, day and night, the voyage of the soul. Songs by Schubert dotted the program with rich harmonies that comforted (“Die Nacht”) and that showcased the group’s astounding control over the quietest of singing. A terrifically witty chanson by Camille Saint-Saëns about four suitors wooing found the men tossing little tunes from one to the other in sweet competition; Brahms’ “Ich schwing mein Horn” (I blow my horn into the vale of tears) was rich in harmonies of earlier music.

Ivan Moody (b. 1964, and not to be confused with the Ivan Moody who sings with the band “Five Finger Death Punch”) is a London-born composer, most of whose music is liturgical in nature. (He was ordained an Eastern Orthodox  priest in 2007.) His music has an ancient feel to it–not entirely unlike that of Arvo Pärt–but wanders further tonally and harmonically; still, it is always accessible and quite beautiful. The five excerpts from the Song of Songs impressed mightily. Three dreary Victorian songs ended the written program, but anyone who missed the men’s version of the WW II song Rosie the Riveter, complete with kazoo sounds, missed quite a finale.