Its Roman theme notwithstanding, this particular programme has been designed with an eye to the market: Renaissance Masses don’t come more popular than these two (both are available in the iconic Eulenburg miniature score series, in which music before 1600 barely features). Of course, they have been recorded many times, but in both cases the all-male, one-to-a-part treatment adopted here is rare, not to say unique. This fact alone is bound to interest the collector, if only on the principle of trying anything once.
Fortunately there’s more to these performances than novelty. Compared to the triumphal tone that marks out many SATB performances of Papae Marcelli, New York Polyphony’s approach is almost intimate, its details articulated from within. Some might find it almost too restrained, wish for more variety of projection or a more purposeful shaping of details (this last point one I’ve made in reviewing their earlier recordings). On the other hand, the blend and unanamity of ensemble is commendable, and seems to improve with each recording. There may be more finely honed interpretations of this much-loved work, but New York Polyphony’s take on it is worth hearing. The same goes for Victoria’s O quam gloriosum cycle, except that owing to its lighter scoring (four voices instead of the six or even seven of Papae Marcelli), any hint of tentativeness is more plainly exposed, for example at the ends of phrases or paragraphs, which sometimes tail off rather than provide closure.
The accompanying motets are well handled but seem rather overshadowed in the context of the whole programme. That’s even truer of the plainchant selections, which are shorn of their verses or repeats: even as palate-cleansers, they are quite insubstantial.