New York Polyphony–And Homophony, From Tallis to Today

Review by: David Vernier


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

In the years when the four women of Anonymous 4 were regularly recording, you looked forward to each new release, knowing that they would consistently offer first-rate performances and thoughtful, enlightening programs. So far, the four men of New York Polyphony have maintained a similar standard of world-class performance and engaging programming. You may not think the world yearns for another Byrd 4-part Mass recording—that is, until you hear these four male voices sing it. Sure, you’ve heard the Tallis Scholars’ reference version, but have you ever heard it performed by just four voices, ideally matched, of uniquely compatible timbre, combined into such a richly resonant sound? Not to mention the nuances of phrasing, of breathing, of inflection obtainable only by small ensembles whose members are closely bonded personally and are musically of one mind. It’s sung a major-third down from its usual key, and although generally taken at a slightly faster pace than we’re used to (the Agnus Dei a bit too fast to wrench its full emotional impact), in this decidedly non-liturgical context you appreciate the purposeful flow and momentum.

The “early music” part of the program also includes two rarely-heard but eminently worthy works, the Missa sine nomine by English composer John Plummer (1410-1483) and Thomas Tallis’ Mass for Four Voices. The latter, minus a Kyrie, features some of the most gorgeous passages of pure homophony you will hear, sparingly interspersed with polyphonic sections. Here, you really appreciate the vibrant quality of this quartet’s sound, as well as the effect on the ear of such impeccably tuned chords.

Modern works by Richard Rodney Bennett (A Colloquy with God), Andrew Smith (Kyrie: Cunctipotens Genitor Deus), and Gabriel Jackson (Ite missa est) fit perfectly, not just because of their texts, but because of their basic musical compatibility with the older works—set in a modern-tonal structure that respects the sacred-spiritual context. All three of these pieces were written for New York Polyphony; Jackson’s jaunty, jazzy Ite missa est is an ingeniously written little gem, a program-ending highlight that shows off the composer’s affecting harmonic concept and inventive rhythmic textual treatment along with the singers’ most delicate ensemble virtuosity. The sound on this SACD recording, from a Swedish church, is consistent with BIS’s usual high standard. Recommended with the assurance that you will listen to this disc often.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Album Title: Times Go By Turns
Reference Recording: Byrd: Tallis Scholars (Gimell); This one

WILLIAM BYRD: Mass for Four Voices; RICHARD RODNEY BENNETT: A Colloquy with God; JOHN PLUMMER: Missa sine nomine; ANDREW SMITH: Kyrie: Cunctipotens Genitor Deus; THOMAS TALLIS: Mass for Four Voices; GABRIEL JACKSON: Ite missa est

  • BIS - 2037
  • SACD

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