New York Polyphony Releases “Lamentationes” Featuring Lost Works By Francisco Penalosa
GRAMMY-nominated vocal quartet New York Polyphony today announces the release of its latest album Peñalosa – Lamentationes, out Friday, September 6, 2019 on BIS Records (BIS-2407 SACD). The album features rarely heard works from late 15th-century and early 16th-century Spanish composers Francisco de Penalosa, Pedro de Escobar, and Francisco Guerrero, including world premiere recordings of Peñalosa’s Lamentations and movements of his Missa L’homme arme.
Originally written for men’s voices, the long overlooked works on Lamentationes are uniquely suited to the four men of New York Polyphony. Of the repertoire, bass Craig Phillips says, “The music leapt off the page. It was as though these pieces, especially Penalosa’s unknown settings of the Lamentations, were written for us. We connected immediately to the sweep and sensuality of the repertoire.”
The end of the fifteenth century in Spain witnessed the emergence of a number of composers of outstanding ability who set the stage for the extraordinary flowering of polyphony in the following century. These works do not make regular appearances in liturgical celebrations or concert programmes, partly due to the way modern choirs are structured without the countertenor voice. Apart from this, the idea of the Spanish musical renaissance has come to mean the works of composers such as Tomas Luis de Victoria, Francisco Guerrero and Alonso Lobo rather than their illustrious predecessors Francisco de Penalosa and Pedro de Escobar.
Penalosa, probably born in 1470 in Talavera de la Reina near Madrid, first appears in historical records as a singer in the chapel of Ferdinand V of Aragon and then maestro de capilla in the household of Ferdinand’s grandson. He had a benefice at the Cathedral of Seville, but the Cathedral Chapter objected to his lengthy absences in Rome. He returned to Seville in 1525, and was appointed Cathedral Treasurer. None of his music is preserved in sources from outside the Iberian Peninsula, and most of it is presumed to have been composed while he was in the employ of the Court of Aragon. Penalosa left six Masses, a few independent Mass sections, six Magnificats, Lamentations, various hymns, and a series of motets.
Penalosa’s Lamentations, which only exist in two manuscripts from Tarazona Cathedral, are built on monophonic chant tones found in the 1516 Passionarium Toletanum. Also from Tarazona is the Stabat Mater by Pedro de Escobar, performed on this album between Peñalosa’s two Lamentations settings. It is a deeply haunting setting of the first two verses of the text and stylistically similar in many ways to the work of Penalosa, notably in its textural transparency and responsiveness to the text, but Escobar is more melodically contained, less prone to elaborate.
Unica est columba mea is a three-voice setting of a text from the Song of Songs and, like Penalosa’s other setting of words from this source, Nigra sum, is flowingly expressive. Paired with these two works are a motet and a villancico by one of the most celebrated of later Spanish composers, Francisco Guerrero. Quae est ista is another setting of words from the Song of Songs from the composer’s 1555 collection of motets published in Seville. Like Penalosa, Guerrero is inspired to ecstatic cascades of notes, though the effect is very different in this much fuller-textured four-voice work. Antes que comais a Dios is a setting of a vernacular text from the composer’s 1598 collection published in Venice.
Recognized for the superior sound quality of its recordings, BIS Records is releasing the album as a Hybrid Super Audio CD (SACD). While the disc plays on all standard CD players, it also includes high-resolution stereo as well as surround sound versions of the recording, to be accessed via an SACD player and offering a more immediate and detailed listening experience. For details about New York Polyphony’s previous releases on BIS Records, visit the BIS website.
“The repertoire showcases the ensemble performing at its peak. Its approach is persuasive and utterly commanding. The vocal ranges in these works frequently highlight the lower voices (listen, for example, to the gorgeous opening of Escobar’s Stabat mater), and the ensemble as a result shines like burnished copper — rich, warm, and dark. The reduced textures of the Lamentationes and the cascading of the various segments of the famous “L’homme armé” melody from part to part feel like light shimmering off different parts of the same polished surface. The L’homme armé movements are absolutely stunning…A fantastic new album.”
Early Music America (Two Thumbs Up)
“And finally, with the artful advocacy of groups like New York Polyphony, the music of composers like Francisco de Peñalosa (c.1470 – 1528) is no longer confined to the world of musicologists. The program was recorded in the wonderful acoustic of Princeton Abbey, New Jersey and the results are always clear and well blended. Listen here as the crack New York vocal ensemble invests Peñalosa’s slow-moving Lamentations with glorious tone and plenty of aching regret.”
Limelight Magazine, November Editor’s Picks
“This absolutely stunning recording gathers together settings of those texts, alongside related ones, from three pillars of the Spanish Renaissance: Francisco Peñalosa, Pedro de Escobar, and Francisco Guerrero. As one would expect, the music is somber, dark, and deeply sad. As one might not expect, the four-voice, all-male ensemble New York Polyphony somehow manage to sound like a much larger and more diverse choir; I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a richer sound from such a small single-gender ensemble. Much of this music has been very rarely recorded, and this album should be considered a must-purchase for any library with a collecting interest in Renaissance music.”
“And speaking of sheer loveliness, I have to say again how extraordinarily gorgeous is the sound of these voices, and how they perfectly move together through phrases while maintaining an absolute awareness of each line and its relative importance, its need to swell or diminish, to blend or assume prominence. Perfect ensemble singing, ideally recorded (at Princeton, New Jersey’s Princeton Abbey).”
Classics Today, 10 out of 10
“Sung here by a crack male quartet, there’s an appealing leanness and clarity to his music, and Ivan Moody’s enjoyable sleeve note refers to Peñalosa’s “Josquin-like transparency.” One suspects that that’s partly down to the quality of New York Polyphony’s singing and BIS’s engineering: this disc sounds spectacular. Two settings of verses from the Book of Lamentations appear. The set written for Holy Thursday is spare and elegant; that for Holy Friday more warmly expressive…All wonderfully performed: a subtle, haunting collection.”
The Arts Desk
“Lamentationes” debuted at number 8 on the Billboard Classical Chart for the week of September 21, 2019.