New York Polyphony Announces Release of Sing thee Nowell

New York Polyphony
New York Polyphony

On September 9, 2014, BIS Records releases Sing thee Nowell by the GRAMMY®-nominated male classical vocal quartet New York Polyphony. With this album of Christmas music, the group behind one of The New Yorker magazine’s "Top Ten Notable Classical Music Recordings of 2012" brings its signature fusion of refined musicianship and modern approach to a diverse program that combines contemporary works, masterpieces of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and traditional favorites.

Sing thee Nowell covers the full liturgical Christmas period from the Annunciation to Epiphany. New works by contemporary composers Michael McGlynn, Andrew Smith, and John Scott, as well as arrangements by group members Craig Phillips (as Alexander Craig) and Geoffrey Williams, are paired with carols and motets from the 15th and 16th century by such composers as the Flemish Philippe Verdelot and Spanish master Tomás Luis de Victoria.

The album’s rich holiday variety is anchored by Five Carols, a collection of settings of medieval melodies and texts by the late British composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, expressing the images and moods of the Christmas nativity. For this set, the group is joined by guest sopranos Sarah Brailey and Elizabeth Baber Weaver. Beginning with the season of Advent, the album opens with Andrew Smith’s Veni Emmanuel, a fascinating reinvention of the famous ninth century chant melody. Andrew Smith also contributes a setting of Nowell: Arise and Wake, premiered by New York Polyphony with critical acclaim in 2013.

New York Polyphony countertenor Geoffrey Williams’ Adam lay ybounden is a satisfying exercise in neo-Medievalism, and his arrangement of There is no Rose adds contemporary harmonic color to Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s stately 19th century hymn tune Hereford. There is no Rose is featured in three additional settings, including its original 15th century form from the Trinity College of Cambridge’s Carol Roll, a new setting by composer John Scott, and also in Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s Five Carols. The group also presents the ancient 15th century English motet Nesciens mater by Byttering followed by Michael McGlynn’s prayer to the Virgin, O pia virgo mater, specially commissioned for this album.

Alexander Craig (nom de plume of New York Polyphony’s bass Craig Phillips) provides a trio of traditional carols in modern arrangement: Gabriel’s Message, Un flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle, and the beloved American tune O Little Town of Bethlehem. Craig contributes a wholly original composition as well in his setting of the James Joyce poem Sleep now, O sleep now, a dulcet cradle song that conjures images of the Virgin and child. The nativity scene is captured as well in both Tomás Luis de Victoria’s celebrated O magnum mysterium and the traditional 14th century German folk hymn, Quem pastores laudavere, in an arrangement by American composer Susan LaBarr.

Situated alongside Richard Pygott’s piercing lullaby, Quid petis, o fili? is Peter Warlock’s Bethlehem Down. For this exquisite carol, a modern lullaby that reconciles the calm of the stable with Christ’s inevitable death, guest sopranos Brailey and Baber Weaver again join the quartet to deliver what is perhaps the most poignant moment of Sing Thee Nowell.