Looking into the not-too-distant past—the early 1990s—you may recall another vocal quartet, not four men but four women, who called themselves Anonymous 4, and whose illustrious career spanned a couple of decades-plus. Their specialty was medieval chant and polyphony (with occasional forays into modern repertoire), and with each new recording—21 all together—the challenge for a critic to find something new and insightful to say about the performances (not to mention the sound quality) became increasingly difficult, and then impossible, because they all were just so…perfect. And here, in 2019, the male quartet New York Polyphony, already in its 13th year, commands similar respect and in itsRead more performances induces equally befuddled attempts by a commentator to find novel descriptions of what already amounts to, you guessed it, vocal ensemble perfection.
You might at first wonder at the choice of Peñalosa, described in multiple sources as an “important” Spanish composer (c. 1470-1528), but whose significance, based on appearances on today’s recordings and concert programs, would suggest a more modest status. On listening, however, you will not only (enthusiastically) switch the dial back from “modest” to “important”, but you will very soon understand this ensemble’s choice of repertoire: its particular style and voicing eminently suited to the group’s configuration—countertenor, tenor, baritone, bass—and the textures, rich with melody and harmonies that invite the rich resonance and vibrant, ringing vocal quality that mark New York Polyphony’s signature sound.
Although two sets of Lamentations get top billing here—impressive both musically, for effective text-settings and varied use of voicing, and in length (both more than 11 minutes)—I found the three movements from the Missa L’homme armé to be most affecting, displaying Peñalosa’s most clever vocal writing technique in the Gloria and affinity for sheer loveliness in the Agnus Dei.
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).
There are a couple more (shorter) Peñalosa pieces on the program—the gentle motet Unica est columba mea is a highlight—and the disc is rounded out with fine works by his contemporary Pedro de Escobar and successor Francisco Guerrero. The liner notes provide just enough interesting detail about Peñalosa and his music to make you want to find out more—not a bad thing. And the same could be said for this excellent recording.
Both timeless and completely in the momentSeptember 27, 2019By Dean Frey See All My Reviews"Francisco de Peñalosa is the link between the great Flemish composer Josquin des Prez (his senior by 15 or 20 years) and the full flowering of Spanish Renaissance music, represented by Alonso Lobo, Tomás Luís de Victoria and Francisco Guerrero. This new disc from New York Polyphony presents two Lamentationes by Peñalosa, along with a number of his Mass segments. As well, we have a short Stabat Mater by his contemporary Pedro de Escobar, and two pieces by Francisco Guerrero, who was born the same year (1528) that Peñalosa died. Peñalosa's music can sound strikingly modern while retaining its antique patina. In his fine liner notes, Ivan Moody quotes Ken Kreitner's praise of the 'kaleidoscope" effect of the Gloria of Peñalosa's Missa 'L'Homme Armé", whereby "... the tune is broken into little bits which are scattered everywhere and audible somewhere all the time in a rather dazzling display of wit and invention." The process, and its effect, is positively post-modern! The superb singing, impressive acoustic space (of the Princeton Abbey in the former site of the Saint Joseph's Seminary in Plainsboro NJ), and perfectly captured audio all come together to provide an experience that is both timeless and completely in the moment. Another impressive project from New York Polyphony!"Report Abuse