New York Polyphony

By Robert Levine

Music by Brumel; Crecquillon; Clemens Non Papa; Josquin; Hill
NEW YORK POLYPHONY – Geoffrey Williams (countertenor); Geoffrey Silver (tenor); Christopher Dylan Herbert (baritone); Craig Philips (bass)
BIS SACD-1949 (CD). 2011, 2012. Jens Braun, eng & prod. DDD: TT: 67:58
Performance: *****
Sonics: *****
One of the remarkable things about the four women who make up the famously best-selling Anonymous 4 is that they can focus their tone so impeccably that they sound like a single, pure, silver-white voice. Conversely, New York Polyphony, a five-year-old male quartet, create a warm, dark, velvety blend that can fool the ear into thinking it is hearing anywhere from three to eight voices. The balance of counter-tenor, tenor, baritone, and bass is so ideal, the musicianship so clearly of one mind, the precision so exquisite, that whether they are throbbing at forte or whispering a particularly reverent phrase, the effect is always as natural as it is beautiful.
This CD is devoted to music of grief, loss and mortality and is from the 15th and 16th century, with one exception: The CD closes with a 2009 commission by the group from composer Jackson Hill called “My end is my beginning,” which is based on a work by Machaut and which sums up the concept of the entire recital. It, indeed, has the feel of something old made new: Machaut’s intentions are clear but Hill’s modern, rolling harmonies complement Machaut. The Brumel Mass that starts the program is a masterpiece, with plainchant alternating with dense-but-always-clear polyphony: the setting of the Dies Irae takes up half the work and is its dark, pensive heart. A set of Lamentations by Crecquillon, a singer at the court of Charles V, is a deeply moving rarity, and the remainder of the program ravishes the ear. A crucial CD, recorded with lifelike clarity and warmth in a Swedish church.