Concert Review: New York Polyphony
Saturday night WC listened to a two hour, a cappella concert. Most of the songs were in Latin or Middle Italian. The only instruments were the voices of the four men on stage. And WC loved every minute of it.
New York Polyphony is Geoffrey Williams, Countertenor; Steven Caldicott Wilson, Tenor; Christopher Dylan Herbert, Baritone and Craig Phillips, Bass. Together, they rank among the foremost classical men’s vocal quartets.
Saturday night, until the last song and encore, they didn’t do any song that wasn’t at least 450 years old. Some were church liturgies; some were pretty racy (at least in translation) for our understanding of, say, the late 1400s. Certainly Francisco Guerrero’s (1528-1599) adaption of Solomon’s “Song of Songs” has its moments. Or Pyamnour’s “Qualm pulchra ea,” with the line “There I will give my breasts to you.” It’s all enough to make you re-think you view of the Middle Ages.
The second half of the show was given over mostly to Italian and French madrigals. These were the pop songs of 16th Century, secular music complete with melodic hooks and amusing lyrics. Excellently done. The closing harmonies on the two Giovanni Nola pieces, in particular, brought the disparate voice together in an astonishing conclusion.
But New York Polyphony is more than the Medieval and Renaissance period songs that are their bread and butter. The group has outstanding harmonies, brilliant arrangements and superb individual work. Their encore song, “Sweet and Low,” a Tennyson poem set to music in 1863 by Sir Joseph Barnby, was magical in Polyphony’s hands.
Special marks to Geoffrey William’s amazing countertenor singing. Absolutely amazing that a man’s voice can have such a range.
Equally impressive, the group performed some of their songs as trios, with various members stepping back for specific arrangements.
WC is no scholar of classical music. The mysteries of polyphony are just that: mysteries. But the musicianship of New York Polyphony was evident even to WC’s uneducated ears. A remarkable concert, great fun and a vivid demonstration of the scope of music in the United States today. Remember the previous concert was Riders in the Sky, who are about as far from classical music as you can get and still be singing. Props to Fairbanks Concert Association for the amazing range of artists it brings to Fairbanks.
An excellent concert. Bravo.