New York Polyphony, a male quartet, in many senses calls to mind Anonymous 4, the women's ensemble that made an extraordinary career focusing on early music, but also branching out as far afield as folk song and contemporary repertoire. The collection here is primarily devoted to Medieval and Renaissance pieces, but includes works by modern British composers Peter Maxwell Davies, Kenneth Leighton, and Andrew Smith, and an unfamiliar setting of "Away in a Manger" based on a folk song from Normandy. The bulk of the music was written well before 1600, with a strong emphasis on plainchant. The integration of the diverse repertoire into a single CD is surprisingly effective; the juxtaposition of brief monophonic plainchant with English Renaissance polyphony and contemporary motets is so skillfully programmed that there is no sense of disjunction. Andrew Smith's two motets are especially striking in their simplicity and emotional punch. Like Anonymous 4, the size of the group allows for a wonderfully sensitive balance; the ensemble breathes as a single organism, and the blend, which can vary from perfect homogeneity to the subtle highlighting of a single voice, is marvelous. The group is joined by a women's trio in several works written for more than four parts. The sound is clean and present, with appropriate resonance for this material. For the listener looking for a collection of contemplative Christmas music that steers clear of the most obvious selections and introduces intriguing new repertoire, as well as for the fan of early music vocal ensembles, this album has much to offer.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
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