Album du jour: Stephen Layton & Polyphony, “American Polyphony”

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To be filed under “better than which it does not get.” The 35-voice Polyphony is among the best of the seemingly infinite number of English chamber choirs without whom the classical CD collector would be seriously bereft. Having recorded previous albums devoted to superstar American choral composers Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre, Polyphony devote (sic) their newest release (.pdf of the booklet here) to the greatest a cappella hits of four leading figures of the “greatest generation” of American composition: Randall Thompson (including “Alleluia”), Samuel Barber (“Agnus Dei,” “Reincarnations,” et al.), Leonard Bernstein (“Missa brevis”) and Aaron Copland (“Four Motets”). Anyone who’s been in choirs for any length time will have sung most if not all of the chosen works, but could only have dreamt of singing them as well. We expect beauty of tone and scrupulousness of preparation from the best English groups, and have no reason to be disappointed on these criteria here. What we’re spared, fortunately, is the frequent concomitant blandness. No cotton-candy tones here — the performances whisper, thunder, rush forward, make time stand still, and have the hairs on the back of one’s neck standing at near-permanent attention. Now what might Maestro Layton and Polyphony include on a second volume? Let’s see, Copland’s “In the beginning,” Elliott Carter’s “Heart not so heavy as mine” and “Musicians wrestle everywhere,” David Del Tredici’s “Acrostic Song”…

No Spotify playlist for this or other Hyperion releases, though you may sample and purchase for download here. Thanks from this proud American chorister to Stephen Layton and Polyphony for showing us how it’s done.

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