New York Polyphony
American Record Guide

By Brewer

New York Polyphony
BIS 1949---68 minutes

The theme of this anthology, containing mostly Franco-Flemish polyphony, is mourning and grief. Besides the often recorded motet, 'Absalon Fili mi' (here attributed to Josquin des Pres), it includes what are apparently the first recordings of Thomas Crequillon's extensive four-voice setting of verses from the Lamentations of Jeremiah and Jacobus Clemens non Papa's selections from the meditations of Girolamo Savonarola, Tristitia Obsedit me. The central work on this collection is Antoine Bmmel's Requiem.

Compared to his more often recorded 12voice Mass Et Ecce Terrae Motus, Brumel's Requiem mass is much more austere. Scored for only four voices and intimately tied to the Gregorian chant propers, either through literal quotation or paraphrase, the close-voice textures and restrained rhythms contrast with the larger mass's flamboyant style. There is very little difference between this new release and the recording of the Requiem by The Clerks' Group (Sept/Oct 2006, see De la Rue). Though the English ensemble has seven singers instead of a quartet, the resonance of the small Swedish church used by HIS so enhances the sonority of the New Yorkers that sometimes it almost sounds as if parts are doubled. (There is no real need to compare either of these recordings with the idiosyncratic performance of the 'Dies irae' from the Bmmel Requiem by the Huelgas Ensemble; Sept/Oct 1991).

The obvious comparison with New York Polyphony would be the Hilliard Ensemble, and again there are many points of similarity and strengths between these male quartets. Both ensembles sing with almost impeccable intonation, and the intricate web of the polyphony is always clearly delineated. The main difference is not in the singers, but the space. I could only wish that the Hilliard Ensemble had also been recorded in this same small church, which seems to enhance the resonance of these voices. The skill of New York Polyphony is demonstrated by the addendum at the end of a recording of the newly commissioned setting of Machaut's 'Ma fin est mon commencement' by the American composer, Jackson Hill. Hill's style is similar to the current choral textures created by Eric Whitacre, among others, working in a tonal context but creating very rich sonorities, even from four male voices.