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Fanfare Magazine: 43:4 (03-04/2020) 
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Elegy – Countertenor duets by Purcell & Blow Product Image

Code-barres / Barcode : 0793591468839

Reviewer: Raymond Tuttle

A sharp-eyed reader might prove me wrong, but I think that this is the first time that Francisco de Peñalosa’s Lamentationes and the three Mass movements have been recorded. (The other movements are extant, if I am reading Ivan Moody’s booklet note correctly, although they have not been recorded here.) In any case, if you do not know them, these works are a real find—assuming you appreciate polyphony from the Spanish Renaissance, that is.

Peñalosa and Pedro de Escobar preceded the more famous Tomás Luis de Victoria by some 75 years. Francisco Guerrero preceded him as well, but by just one generation. Victoria’s music has received much attention in recent years—the 10-CD set of his sacred works, recorded for DG Archiv by Ensemble Noone, is a must-have. These older composers have not been so fortunate, but I hope that releases such as this one will stimulate new and amply-deserved interest in these composers and in their music.

Peñalosa’s Lamentationes and Mass movements, and Escobar’s Stabat mater dolorosa come from manuscripts in the Tarazona Cathedral, located in Spain’s Zaragoza province. As Peñalosa was associated with the Court of Aragon, finding his music in modern-day Zaragoza is not overly surprising. Less appears to be known about Escobar, who for many years was confused with the Portuguese composer Pedro de Porto. (In fact, Wikipedia still conflates the two.) Guerrero was associated with Seville, and was employed by Emperor Maximilian II.

New York Polyphony’s singing seems beyond excellent, but just to be sure, I found a recording of Unica est columba mea by Ensemble Absalon. There’s really no comparison: New York Polyphony is far superior in every way: steadiness of pitch, blend, balance, and sensitivity. These performances seem to glow with an inner light. I don’t see how they could be improved upon.

There are four singers in New York Polyphony (although the richness of their sound often suggests a larger ensemble). They are countertenor Geoffrey Williams, tenor Steven Caldicott Wilson, baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert, and bass Craig Phillips. This program was recorded down I-95 in Princeton, New Jersey—specifically, at the Princeton Abbey, a non-sectarian venue that complements these performances. One might say that the Abbey is New York Polyphony’s fifth voice. This gorgeous disc should please scholars and more casual listeners alike.

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