One of the advantages of not having to regularly write reviews – like I did for my Ariama job or Early Music America magazine — is having the freedom to listen to whatever I want to. But these three are by artists/ensembles who I would listen to any time/all the time. So the gold, silver and bronze medals go to:
New York Polyphony
Times Go By Turns
Times Go By Turns is a masterpiece, a superb album of English classics by Byrd, Tallis, Plummer and contemporary composers. The music by the contemporaries — Richard Rodney Bennett, Andrew Smith, and my personal favorite, Gabriel Jackson complements the early music perfectly. For me, Times Go By Turns achieves the near impossible; it takes familiar works — Masses for four voices by Byrd and Tallis — and makes you hear them in new ways. Times Go By Turns has been nominated for a Grammy, if there is any justice in this wicked world, New York Polyphony wins. I play this one endlessly, easily the best album of the year.
Profeti Della Quinta
Il Montavano Hebreo
Centuries ago I worked for a record label that produced recordings of music by the Mantuan Jewish composer Salomone Rossi. The best recordings of Rossi’s music that I’ve heard are by the Galilee-based vocal ensemble Profeti della Quinta. Their new album on the sonically stunning Linn Records label is Il Montavano Hebreo, a collection of Rossi’s instrumental music — the guy invented the trio sonata — devotional music and Italian madrigals. The group is coming to New York in January. If you are New Yorkers, don’t miss them!
The Phoenix Rising
Stile Antico keeps rolling along. It’s pretty rare when an ensemble just knocks out one mind-bending album after another, especially in the rarefied world of Renaissance polyphony. Not since the early days of the Tallis Scholars have I heard Tudor church music sung with such warmth and precision. Stile Antico, like New York Polyphony, are superb programmers too. Their program is drawn from Oxford University Press’s classic Tudor Church Music collection, but programmed with a careful ear. The Phoenix Rising features Byrd’s magnificent Mass for five voices with motets and anthems by Gibbons, Morley, Tallis, Taverner, and White placed between movements of the mass.