One of the many things I lurve about autumn is that all my favorite choral groups start releasing Christmas albums. I can’t get enough Christmas music. Though with the caveat that I don’t mean “I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” kinds of Christmas music, but rather the good O Come O Come Emmanuel, and Lo, How a Rose er Blooming kind of Christmas music. The carols that take me back to autumn choir retreats. Autumn just doesn’t seem right if I’m not singing Christmas carols in a choir (which I do now with the fabulous Claremont Chorale).
New York Polyphony is one of my favorite early music groups, and Oh Joy, they have a Christmas album coming out soon. But if Christmas carols isn’t your thing, they sing a lot of early music. They were formed in 2006, are based out of New York, and have one of the most awesome album covers ever with Tudor City, which looks like a modern sign, but it’s kind of ironic, since it’s music from 500 years ago (get it?).
Below is a video of them singing the Kyrie from the Byrd 4 Part Mass. They make a huge sound for being just 4 voices, and I find their combination really interesting and rich. There are other early music groups out there that have more voices so they’ll have multiple people to each part, but I think that having just one voice per part helps you hear each of the individual parts and how they go together better.
I wonder whether they ever find themselves limited with their repertoire given that they only have 4 voices, though? For example, they probably would have to do some arranging to do the Byrd mass for five voices. And while I’ve heard the King’s Singers do Spem in Alium, the 40 part work by Thomas Tallis (circa 1570), it’s one of the few times where I’m not crazy about them because they just don’t get the same sound as a full choir. I imagine that there are some pieces that a 4 part group just couldn’t touch.
But really, that’s ok. As they’ve already proven, there’s enough great choral work for four voices that they can cover that they shouldn’t need to try things like a 40 part motet. They seem to stay true to their strength, and not try to be something that they’re not (ie a full choir) (ps, I’m not knocking the King’s Singers – I love the King’s Singers – they introduced me to early music).
While I truly love the big cathedral choral sounds, I find the intimacy of these smaller groups to be breathtaking, and the authenticity of their performance makes it truly a time machine. If you close your eyes and soak in the music, you can imagine yourself in the Elizabethan court. Great works of art are living and breathing that way, and with music there are two levels to the art – the composition itself, and the musicians who bring it alive. I’m grateful for groups like New York Polyphony who bring this music alive for me.