GRAMMY-nominated vocal quartet New York Polyphony today announces the release of its latest album Peñalosa – Lamentationes on September 6 on BIS Records. The album features rarely heard works from late 15th-century and early 16th-century Spanish composers Francisco de Peñalosa, Pedro de Escobar, and Francisco Guerrero, including world premiere recordings of Peñalosa's Lamentations and movements of his Missa L’homme armé.
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 Peñalosa'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 programs, 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 Tomás Luís de Victoria, Francisco Guerrero and Alonso Lobo rather than their illustrious predecessors Francisco de Peñalosa and Pedro de Escobar.
Peñalosa, 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. Peñalosa left six Masses, a few independent Mass sections, six Magnificats, Lamentations, various hymns, and a series of motets.
Peñalosa’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 Peñalosa, 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 Peñalosa’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 Peñalosa, Guerrero is inspired to ecstatic cascades of notes, though the effect is very different in this much fuller-textured four-voice work. Antes que comáis a Dios is a setting of a vernacular text from the composer’s 1598 collection published in Venice.
About New York Polyphony
Praised for a “rich, natural sound that’s larger and more complex than the sum of its parts” (NPR), New York Polyphony is one of the foremost vocal chamber ensembles active today. The four men, “singers of superb musicianship and vocal allure” (The New Yorker), give vibrant, modern voice to repertoire ranging from Gregorian chant to cutting-edge compositions. Their dedication to innovative programming, as well as a focus on rare and rediscovered Renaissance and medieval works, has not only earned New York Polyphony two GRAMMY nominations and wide acclaim, but also helped to move early music into the classical mainstream.
Commissioning new works has been central to the mission of New York Polyphony since their founding in 2006. Both in performance and on recording, the ensemble has demonstrated a commitment to presenting contemporary compositions that explore the boundaries between ancient and modern music. They have forged relationships with numerous composers, including established artists such as Richard Rodney Bennett, Jonathan Berger and Jackson Hill, emerging talents Bora Yoon and Gregory Brown, and prominent figures such as Gabriel Jackson and Andrew Smith. In January 2017, as part of Miller Theatre at Columbia University's Early Music Series, New York Polyphony premiered The Vespers Sequence, a multi-movement setting of the Byzantine evening prayer service composed for the ensemble by Ivan Moody. Other projects include The Bitter Good by American composer Gregory Spears, for which the quartet was awarded a 2016 Commissioning Grant from Chamber Music America.
New York Polyphony’s growing discography includes two GRAMMY-nominated releases and albums that have topped the “Best of” lists of The New Yorker, Gramophone, and BBC Music Magazine. The ensemble’s 2017 release Missa Charles Darwin (Navona Records) features Gregory W. Brown’s innovative work of the same name—a piece that directly inspired bestselling author Dan Brown’s most recent novel in the Da Vinci Code series, Origin. New York Polyphony’s 2016 release Roma aeterna debuted at #4 on Billboard’s Classical chart and was hailed as "resplendent and elegant" (San Francisco Chronicle) and "nothing short of revelatory" (AllMusic). Called a “spacious, radiant retreat" by The New York Times, 2014's release Sing thee Nowell earned New York Polyphony the group its second GRAMMY nomination in the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category. Commended as “a complex, clear-eyed yet still painfully beautiful tapestry” (Gramophone), Times go by Turns (2013) amassed substantial critical acclaim and garnered the group’s first GRAMMY nomination. New York Polyphony’s previous releases include endBeginning (2012), Tudor City (2010), and a debut album I sing the birth (2007).
New York Polyphony tours extensively, participating in major concert series and festivals around the world. Noteworthy engagements include performances at Wigmore Hall in London and The Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, residencies at Dartmouth College and Stanford University, concerts under the aegis of the Festival Oude Muziek Utrecht (Netherlands), and the European premiere of The Vespers Sequence at Musica Sacra Maastricht (Netherlands) in 2018. Elsewhere, New York Polyphony has performed as part of the Tage Alter Musik Regensburg (Germany); Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Germany); Rheingau Musik Festival (Germany); Internationales Festival für Vokalmusik "a cappella" Leipzig (Germany); Festival Internacional de Música Abvlensis (Spain); Stiftskonzerte Oberösterreich (Austria); Stavanger Kammermusikk Festival (Norway); Cartagena Festival International de Música (Colombia); San Francisco Performances (USA); and Early Music Vancouver (Canada), among others. They have been featured on Performance Today for American Public Media, Footprints to Paradise: A Medieval Christmas for Public Radio International, and BBC Radio 3’s In Tune. In December 2011, New York Polyphony made its national television debut on The Martha Stewart Show. Learn more at New York Polyphony’s website.