All-male vocal quartet simply exquisite

New York Polyphony
Denver Post

In a music world that seems ever more amplified, digitized and engineered, it is not surprising that there is a growing hunger for an antidote: something natural, direct and sure.

Perfectly filling the bill is New York Polyphony, an all-male vocal quartet that relies solely on the human voice — simple, unfiltered and unenhanced.


The 4-year-old group made a welcome encore appearance Friday evening at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral.

Most of the repertoire was unfamiliar, and that was the point. New York Polyphony likes to take its listeners to musical realms far from what they typically hear on the radio or at the local symphony hall.

It specializes in works from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, throwing in some contemporary music along the way. The early-music realm has long been dominated by European groups, but this Yankee foursome (one member is English) more than holds its own.

Most of the program was devoted to eight selections from its latest album, "Tudor City." As the title suggests, many fell within the Tudor era — 1485 to 1603, but some date back to a century or more earlier and two are recent works by Andrew Smith.

It was extraordinary how past and present blurred. The new sounded old, and the old sounded strikingly fresh and immediate.

The four singers perform with exquisite blend, spot-on intonation and penetrating blend. Each is a first-rate singer, but Craig Phillips with his plush bass and Geoffrey Williams with his light countertenor especially stood out.

By switching places or dropping to a trio at times, the quartet constantly effected subtle changes in sound. Attendees all probably had their own favorites, but it was hard to top William Cornysh's rhythmically varied "Ave Maria Mater Dei" or Walter Lambe's intricate "Stella caeli."

In the second half, the quartet had fun with French Renaissance composer Clement Janequin's programmatic chanson, "La guerre (La bataille de Marig nan)," which chronicles a famous battle, complete with light-hearted sound effects.

New York Polyphony will perform at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the cathedral as part of a free requiem service that will include Antoine Brumel's "Missa pro defunctis."