Julie Amacher, Classical MPR
"Because the music's quality is very ambient and the music is kind of objective, it allows the listener to project whatever they need onto it. So, I won't say it's a blank canvas, but it does give people space to bring to it what they will. And that's really one of the attractions to our repertoire."
Craig Phillips is a bassist and a founding member of the early music vocal ensemble New York Polyphony. The sound of their music is authentically human — just four voices, used in a way that shows the power and potential of singing. To accomplish this goal, they're always on the lookout for just the right repertoire. Recently, they stumbled upon a few gems from the 15th century Spanish composer Francisco de Peñalosa. You can hear some of these works on their new release, Lamentationes.
This recording includes some rarely heard works from late 15th and 16th century Spanish composers. They're predecessors to the composers we might think of when it comes to the Spanish Renaissance, like Tomás de Victoria. Tell me how you assembled this program.
"Believe it or not, it was a happy accident. We were digging around for new material and actually pulled a book off a shelf. It was a relatively recent scholarly publication prepared by a musicologist named Jane Hardy. When we pulled the book out and opened it up to these settings of the Lamentations — and there were three, we do two of his three settings — it leapt off the page.
"Our vocal configuration is a countertenor, tenor, baritone and bass. So, we're really smushed in terms of our ranges, and it just looked like something that we told the composer to write. When we when we started singing it, it just fit like a glove. And then, add to it the fact that they're spectacular, profound, very moving pieces of music. It was a no-brainer."
The works that we hear on this recording by Francisco de Peñalosa are actually world premieres, because they were lost works.
"They essentially existed in only two manuscripts that I believe were found in the Tarazona Cathedral. His music was just not distributed. So, he was kind of an overlooked figure, and we're really hoping that this disc will reveal to people just how special and talented a composer Peñalosa was."
When you said it 'just leapt off the page' and 'wow, it was perfect for us,' what was it about the music that made you think that?
"There's a couple of things. First of all, there's a real attention to the drama. There's a very clear intention to paint the text. And the other part about his writing that I think is just really phenomenal is a kind of 'less is more' approach. He's very creative with counterpoint, and sometimes, even though the voicings are spare, the sound is amazingly full.
"One of the exciting things for us when we present these works is we often get comments that it sounds like there's so much more, that we're a much larger group. And I think that's really a testament to his writing."
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.