EndBEGINNING–New York Polyphony

03.09.12
New York Polyphony
Classics Today

By David Vernier

Four years ago, I last wrote about New York Polyphony, the male vocal quartet who here makes its debut on BIS. The recording was a Christmas program and included the following description: “…these are ideally matched, sensitively balanced voices, warm yet vibrant in the tradition of groups such as the Hilliard Ensemble. And the singing is impeccable–the breathing, the phrasing, all of the ensemble work shows musicians at one with each other and with the music at hand. (Type New York Polyphony in Search Reviews to read the entire review.)

There’s really nothing new to add to that, except perhaps that in the last few years the ensemble has developed even more refined soft singing and–if it’s possible–a more vibrant resonance when they want to emphasize a particularly rich harmonic moment or passage. The fact is, however closely you want to analyze the sound and the performance, you’ll find nothing but reasons to keep listening–and plenty to support an argument for New York Polyphony’s preeminence among today’s male vocal ensembles.

This program of mostly 16th-century works from Franco-Flemish composers suits these voices especially well–for me the expressive range and vocal ensemble technique displayed in Clemens’ Tristitia obsedit me was a highlight (not to mention the gorgeous music itself), along with Josquin’s Absalon fili mi. American composer Jackson Hill (b. 1941) wrote Ma fin est mon commencement for New York Polyphony, and it’s described as “a fantasy on Machaut’s original”; but whether or not you are familiar with that work, the undulating lines, close-textured, modern/ancient harmonic structure, and the phrases that build purposefully to several climactic points–and fully exploiting that vibrant resonance mentioned above–will keep your full attention while leaving no doubt as to this modern (2009) work’s rightful place on the program. This superb BIS production, ideally recorded in a Swedish church, bodes well for what looks like the beginning of a beautiful relationship.