The young, all-male vocal quartet New York Polyphony features a range of vocal music from the thirteenth to the seventeeth centuries, interspersed with a quartet of specially commissioned new pieces. Tudor City is this week's Full Rotation.
The Tudor City of this album’s title carries a clever double meaning that New Yorkers will instantly recognize. It is indeed an allusion to the historic apartment complex on Manhattan’s East Side, with its iconic rooftop sign (featured on the album’s cover). But it also refers to composers who were active during England’s Tudor dynasty (1485-1603), and to their general style of music, often referred to as Tudor polyphony. It was moment of dramatic change in English music, when the medieval sounds gave way to complex, many-voiced polyphony of the Renaissance.
New York Polyphony does more than just present this music as a museum piece. It takes some of the most striking pieces of the era and juxtaposes them with newer works in a similar style, written for the quartet by the British composer Andrew Smith. So just as the musicians bring out the sly and unexpected harmonic twists in William Byrd’s motet Ave verum corpus, they project an ethereal glow in the expressive dissonances of Smith’s neo-medieval Surrexit Christus. Particularly striking is the ensemble’s reading of Thomas Tallis’s Nine Tunes for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter, which includes the powerful Why Fum’th in Fight, later used by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
The transitions between the ancient and modern are effortlessly carried out, especially in back-to-back settings of Flos Regalis and the Magnificat. Recorded in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine just months after it reopened after a fire ravaged the north transept, the album is a sonic portrait of the church’s rebirth as well as a snapshot of a most promising young ensemble.
New York Polyphony