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‘EndBeginning’

08.01.12
New York Polyphony
Gramophone

By Fabrice Fitch

Anonymous Libera me, Somine (plainchant). In Paradisum (plainchant) Brumel Missa pro defunctis Clemens non Papa Tristitia obsedit me – Infelix ego Crecquillon Lamentationes Jeremiae J Hill Ma fin est mon commencement Josquin Absalon fili mi

New York Polyphony

Renaissance laments from New York vocal quartet

Having been more than usually critical of this all-male vocal quartet’s previous offering (Avie, 8/10), it’s good to report positively on this one, of which the centerpiece is an involving reading of Brumel’s Requiem. On The Clerks’ recording of 2005, where it was paired with La Rue’s setting, the work seemed to me the less distinctive of the two. But if the new recording hasn’t quite changed my mind, it’s convinced me that my previous judgment of it was unduly harsh. The only possible miscalculations in an other wise assured performance are the overly jaunty delivery of the verse in the Introit and the parallel organum used in sections of the concluding plainsong Libera me: I think it unlikely, even in a Requiem service, that late-15th-century ‘singing on the book’ (as improvising on plainsong was called0 would have been quite so…plain.

Much of the remaining music (Lamentations by Crecquillon and an impressive motet on the same theme by Clemens non Papa) was new to me. Though the approach is hardly revolutionary (whether knowingly or otherwise, their  reading of the famous Absalon filli mi is nearly identical to the Hilliard Ensemble’s nearly 30 years ago), New York Polyphony have well-matched voices, unanimity of purpose and a far surer touch artistically than before. The contemporary piece that concludes the recital left me unmoved, however, its treatment of Machaut’s most famous ballade overly reverential in several senses. An uncertain end, perhaps, to a new beginning?