BY LIBBY HANSSEN Special to The Star
The warm blend and sumptuous tone of New York Polyphony was the perfect antidote to the chill December air on Tuesday night. During the concert, “I Sing the Birth,” the capacity crowd in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception received a lovely selection of Mass settings and holiday carols that spanned from the Middle Ages to contemporary arrangements.
The all-male quartet, presented by the Friends of Chamber Music, includes Christopher Dylan Herbert (baritone), Craig Phillips (bass), Geoffrey Williams (countertenor) and Steven Caldicott Wilson (tenor).
Their use of the cathedral’s space was impeccable. They needed no amplification for the a capella sonorities to resonate, every entrance beautifully placed and cadence well balanced.
The first half of the program primarily juxtaposed 12th and 14th century Mass settings from the anonymous contributors to the “Worcester Fragments” and Thomas Tallis’ “Mass for Four Voices,” respectively. These pairings — Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei — highlighted the textural and harmonic differences of the styles, but also the versatility of the performers’ voices. The responsorial treatment and long, melismatic lines of the earlier work compared interestingly with the measured entrances and the striking harmonies of the later style.
This segment also included influential works by prolific early composers, Guillaume Dufay’s “Conditor alme siderum” and Pérotin’s “Beata viscera,” and modern pieces informed by these traditions, including Andrew Smith’s “Kyrie Cunctipotens Genitor Deus,” based on Gregorian chant with subtle, ringing harmonies and hand-chime.
The group presented the world premiere of Gabriel Jackson’s “Ite missa est,” the elaborate melodic lines punctuated by carefully placed rhythmic figures.
The second portion of the performance featured songs celebrating winter, Christmas and merry-making. Smith’s arrangement of the familiar “Veni Emmanuel” circumvented expectations with a striking harmonic shift, followed by tender renditions of Paul Manz’s “E’en so, Lord Jesus” and the traditional carol “Gabriel’s Message” arranged by bassist Phillips.
They interspersed a few secular pieces with the religious fare. Henry VIII’s sprightly carol “Green Growth the Holly” preceded the flowing, rounded lines of Richard Pygot’s “Quid petis a fili.” With a breath, they continued into the ever popular “Coventry Carol.” Fun inclusions were the rapid, overwhelming succession of demands in Gustav Holst’s “Now Bring Us in Good Ale” and the joys of quaffing celebrated in Herbert Howells’ “The Winds Whistle Cold.” The concert concluded with Arthur Sullivan’s “I Sing the Birth” and an encore by Phillips, “The Darkest Midnight in December.”
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/12/12/3962023/old-and-new-music-celebrates-joy.html#storylink=cpy