New York Polyphony Announces Release of endBeginning

01.31.12
New York Polyphony
Musical America

By Paula Mlyn 

On February 28, 2012, BIS Records releases "endBeginning" (BIS-SACD-1949), the first album to be released by the male classical vocal quartet New York Polyphony under an exclusive recording contract. Captured in the superb acoustics of a 14th century church in Länna, Sweden, the SACD features rare and never-before-recorded masterpieces of the Franco-Flemish Renaissance, including works by Thomas Crecquillon, Antoine Brumel, and Jacobus Clemens non Papa, as well as a work attributed to Josquin Desprez and two Gregorian chants. The recording concludes with American composer Jackson Hill’s paraphrased fantasy on Guillaume de Machaut’s 14th century rondo, "Ma fin est mon commencement", commissioned by New York Polyphony in 2009.

The vocal quartet’s discovery of Thomas Crecquillon’s "Lamentationes Jeremiae a 4," a masterful four-voice setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, provided the inspiration for endBeginning. According to bass vocalist Craig Phillips, “We came across this work a few years ago and took to it immediately. It is dense, beautifully sculpted, and the vocal lines are very gracious. Though overshadowed by other Franco-Flemish Renaissance composers like Josquin and Lassus, Crecquillon, like Clemens, is beginning to garner the attention he deserves. To our knowledge, the setting we perform on the disc has never been recorded before.”

The other works on the album share themes of death, loss, and grief that were a reflection of the political and religious turmoil in Northern Europe during the Renaissance. Though the tone of the program is serious, the extraordinary polyphonic writing in the music is uplifting, passionate, and inspired. New York Polyphony also interprets the music in the way it was written and likely intended to be heard, with one voice to a part.

The recording opens with the "Missa pro defunctis" (Mass for the Dead) by the French composer Antoine Brumel (c. 1460–c. 1515), which includes the first known polyphonic setting of the Dies irae. Next in the sequence, the Gregorian chant "Libera me" acts as a fitting postlude to Brumel’s mass. "Lamentationes Jeremiae a 4" by Thomas Crecquillon (c.1505–57), the centerpiece of the program, follows.

The disc continues with the rare motet "Tristitia obsedit me – Infelix ego" by the Dutch composer Jacobus Clemens non Papa (c. 1510/15–56), followed by "Absalon fili mi," attributed to the Franco-Flemish master of the High Renaissance, Josquin Desprez (c. 1450–1521).

A brief evocation of Heaven in the form of the Gregorian plainsong "In paradisum" leads listeners to the concluding work, a reimagined fantasy of 14th century French poet and composer Guillaume de Machaut’s text on mortality: "Ma fin est mon commencement" (My end is my beginning) by American composer Jackson Hill (b. 1941). Hill uses fragments of Machaut’s two upper vocal parts as primary melodic material for the new composition, couched in modern harmonies.

ABOUT NEW YORK POLYPHONY

New York Polyphony is establishing a reputation as one of the world’s finest vocal chamber ensembles. Praised for a “rich, natural sound that’s larger and more complex than the sum of its parts” (National Public Radio), the four men deliver dynamic performances in a wide range of styles. The quartet applies not only refined musicianship and interpretive detail but also a uniquely modern sensibility to its varied repertoire, which ranges from austere medieval melodies to cutting-edge contemporary works.

Hailed as a “stunning tour through chant, polyphony and renaissance harmonies” (Minnesota Public Radio), their previous CD "Tudor City" spent three weeks in the Top 10 of Billboard’s classical album chart. It has been featured on Danish Public Radio, American Public Radio and NPR’s All Things Considered.

New York Polyphony’s debut CD "I sing the birth" was released in 2007. The disc—an intimate meditation on the Christmas season—garnered unanimous praise. Gramophone Magazine named it “one of the season’s best”, BBC Music Magazine selected it as Editor’s Christmas Choice 2007, and Classic FM Magazine hailed it as “a disc for all seasons.”

Since its founding in 2006, New York Polyphony has maintained an active performance schedule. The ensemble has participated in major concert series and festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe, including the Miller Theatre Music Series at Columbia University; Dallas Chamber Music Series; Ireland’s Ardee Baroque Festival; Denmark’s Vendsyssel Festival; Festival de Música de Morelia, Mexico; and the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center. New York Polyphony has been heard on Footprints to Paradise: A Medieval Christmas for Public Radio International, New Classical Tracks for Minnesota Public Radio, and Performance Today for National Public Radio.

Recent engagements include a residency at Dartmouth College, the premiere of the Missa Charles Darwin—a newly commissioned secular Mass setting based on texts of Charles Darwin by composer Gregory Brown—at a TEDx event in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and a broadcast holiday event for Minnesota Public Radio. In December 2011, New York Polyphony made their national television debut on The Martha Stewart Show.