Album Review - ROMA AETERNA - NEW YORK POLYPHONY

08.25.16
New York Polyphony
AllMusic

The main expressive goal of this release by New York Polyphony seems to be the vocal harmonies accomplished by the one-voice-per-part singers and their interaction with the spectacular acoustics of the St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, Nebraska (a venue known to U.S. Midwesterners but not internationally, and the BIS label and the performers deserve kudos for finding it). It succeeds brilliantly on those counts: the singers of New York Polyphony control not only pitch but vocal timbre to remarkable degrees. The album isn't intended as historically informed performance, yet it actually comes close in some ways to what might have been heard in the time of Palestrina, Victoria, and Guerrero. Palestrina's choirs numbered a few dozen, yet there are records of his music being sung one to a part in smaller situations. And the interpolation of chants and motets into the larger works brings the listener closer to what a Roman churchgoer would have experienced. The end result is a performance of, especially, Palestrina's Missa Papæ Marcelli that's nothing short of revelatory: New York Polyphony's reading stands in the highest possible contrast to the usual choral readings of this work, whose density turns it into a big wash of sound when it is sung by a large group. Although Palestrina himself wouldn't have appreciated the comparison, New York Polyphony's sound in the work is almost madrigalian, and in their use of the timbres of individual voices to bring out Palestrina's control over register they accomplish something genuinely original. Victoria's Missa O quam gloriosum and the smaller pieces by all three composers are hardly less compelling. Highly recommended.