In Celebration of the Human Voice - The Essential Musical Instrument
Polyphony was formed by Stephen Layton in 1986 for a concert in King's College Chapel, Cambridge . Since then the choir has performed and recorded regularly to critical acclaim throughout the world. Recent reviews declare Polyphony 'one of the best small choirs now before the public' (Daily Telegraph) and 'possibly the best small professional chorus in the world' (Encore Magazine, USA ).
For more than a decade Polyphony has given annual sell-out performances of Bach's St John Passion and Handel's Messiah at St John's Smith Square . These have become notable events in London 's music calendar and have been broadcast by BBC Radio 3 and the EBU. According to the Evening Standard 'no one but no one performs Handel's Messiah better every year than the choir Polyphony', and the Times 'would rate it among the finest John Passions I have ever heard'.
Polyphony's performance highlights include several BBC Proms, among them Arvo Part's Passio, and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, regular festival performances, most recently at Aldeburgh and at the RTE Living Music Festival in Dublin , and numerous premiere performances. These include works by John Tavener in honour of his 60th birthday as part of the Barbican's Great Performers series, and works by Arvo Part and Pawel Lukaszewski.
Other broadcast highlights have been performances of works by Poulenc, Rautavaara, Tormis, Britten and Grainger for BBC Radio 3, works by Arvo Part for RTE, and an EBU broadcast of Bach's Christmas Oratorio. Performances abroad include concerts in France , Spain , Brazil , Denmark and Hungary.
Polyphony's extensive discography on Hyperion encompasses works by Britten, Bruckner, Cornelius, Grainger, Grieg, Jackson , Lauridsen, Lukaszewski, MacMillan, Part, Poulenc, Rutter, Tavener, Walton, and Whitacre. The CD of Britten, Sacred and Profane, won a Gramophone Award and a Diapason d'Or in 2001, and the choir's premiere recording of works by Arvo Part, Triodion, was Best of Category (Choral) at the 2004 Gramophone Awards. Polyphony also received Gramophone Award nominations in 2002 for the Walton CD, and in 2008 for Poulenc's Gloria, described by Gramophone Magazine as 'a performance of real distinction ... simply incredible'.
the USA , Polyphony's recordings have twice been nominated for Grammy Awards: in 2006 for Lux aeterna, a disc of works by Morten Lauridsen, and in 2007 for a CD of works by Eric Whitacre, Cloudburst. This 'staggering disc' (BBC Radio 3) spent more than fifty weeks in the Billboard Classical Album Chart, and has been hailed by the Times as 'extraordinarily beautiful', by CNN as 'outstanding', and by Classic FM Magazine as 'unmissable'.
Polyphony's latest CD is Handel's Messiah, recorded live at last year's performances at St John's Smith Square and released last month to critical acclaim. Reviewing the disc, Gramophone highlights 'the technical and communicative qualities of Polyphony's exceptional singing of the choruses', and, naming the disc Editor's Choice and one of the 50 best recordings of the year, Classic FM Magazine concludes 'there are few finer exponents of this great oratorio than Polyphony and Stephen Layton ... if you only listen to one Messiah this Christmas, Stephen Layton and Polyphony's live recording should be it'.
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Review: The live performance last year of this major and substantial work by the young Latvian composer Esenvalds thrilled critics and audiences alike. As a new liturgical work that looks set to enter the repertoire it is comparable to Arvo Part's Passio. Eschewing the single narrative perspective that characterizes the great Passion settings of the past, the composer has assembled an interlocking mosaic of texts from the gospels, from Byzantine and Roman liturgies, and from the Old Testament. Stephen Layton's commitment to new Baltic music is well-known and he has a deep understanding of the musical language of the area - reflected by performances of great integrity and passion. This recording is particularly splendid, featuring not only the matchless Polyphony and Britten Sinfonia but also Carolyn Sampson, acclaimed for her performances of early music on Hyperion but heard here to dazzling effect, crowning the performance with her extraordinary singing.
Songlist: Passion and Resurrection, Evening, Night Prayer, A Drop In The Ocean, Legend of the Walled-in Woman, Long Road
Review: This reissue commemorates the 50th anniversary of Grainger's death in February 1961. Harmonium, four guitars, two mandolas, two mandolins, two ukuleles, piccolo, three clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, two alto saxophones, horn, strings, piano, baritone and choir: and that's just the scoring for one piece, the famous sea shanty Shallow Brown. Grainger's Jungle Book cycle is here recorded for the first time. The eleven contrasting movements vividly portray the sentiments of Kipling's poetry and Grainger wrote of the cycle that it was 'composed as a protest against civilization'.
Songlist: Shallow Brown , The fall of the stone , Morning song in the jungle, Night-song in the jungle, The Inuit, The beaches of Lukannon , Red Dog, The peora hunt, Hunting-song of the Seeonee pack, Tiger! Tiger!, The only son, Good-bye to love, Died for love, The power of love, The Rival Brothers, Six dukes went afishin', The sprig of thyme, Willow, willow, Recessional, Lord Maxwell's goodnight, The Three Ravens, The running of shindand, The love song of Har Dyal, My love's in Germanie
Review: Annual live performances of Handel's Messiah at St John's Smith Square with Polyphony and Stephen Layton have become one of the highlights of the musical season. The joyful sincerity and brilliance of the performers has brought this familiar story to vivid life again and again. Now this wonderful experience is available on disc, recorded in 2008 for a new release that will surely prove a strong competitor even in a crowded market. Polyphony is joined by the Britten Sinfonia and a quartet of magnificent young soloists - all variously acclaimed as the premier Handel singers of the new generation.
Review: Stephen Layton's first disc of Lukaszewski's choral works (with The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge) was widely praised by listeners entranced by the composer's unique yet accessible musical language. For this new release Layton and Polyphony, together with the Britten Sinfonia and a team of world-class soloists, have taken on a major work which is destined to become a modern classic in the vein of Tavener's The Veil of the Temple or Part's St John Passion. Via Crucis is a dramatization of the Stations of the Cross, a musical reading of this most solemn journey that evolves through its 55-minutes in an arc of culminatory ritual power.
Songlist: Introduction, Jesus is condemned to death, Universa Turba, Jesus takes up the Cross, Jesus Falls the First Time, Jesus Meets His Blessed Mother, Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry The Cross, Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus, Jesus Falls the Second Time, The Women of Jerusalem Weep for Jesus, Jesus Falls the Third Time, Jesus is Stripped of His Clothes, Jesus is Nailed to the Cross, Jesus Dies On the Cross, Jesus is Taken Down From the Cross, Jesus is Laid in the Tomb, The Resurrection, Christus Vincit
Review: Polyphony's recordings of contemporary choral music are among Hyperion's perennial bestsellers and have introduced thousands of listeners to magical new worlds of sound. On this new disc, under their inspirational director, Stephen Layton, the composer Gabriel Jackson gets the Polyphony treatment. Jackson's uniquely appealing choral works have made him one of the most familiar names in the repertoire today. His liturgical pieces are in the repertoires of many of Britain's leading cathedral and collegiate choirs and in 2003 he won the liturgical category at the inaugural British Composer Awards. His music is deeply attractive: meditative, contemplative and unashamedly spiritual.
Songlist: To Morning, Song (I gaze upon you), Cecilia Virgo, Orbis patrator optime, Ave Maria, Hymn to the Trinity (Honor, virtus et potestas), Not no faceless Angel, O sacrum convivium, Lux mortuorum, Salve regina, Salve regina 2
Review: Stephen Layton and Polyphony continue to blaze a trail as dazzling interpreters of a wide range of choral music. Here they turn to some of the most bewitching and distinctive choral works of the twentieth century. Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) imbued this well-loved music with a deep expression of his faith and unique personality. Each motet, with its own delightfully etched character, echoes the composer's study of Bach, Monteverdi, Palestrina, or Gabrieli, but remains stylistically progressive, containing Poulenc's ingenious chord progressions. The Gloria is one of his most enduringly appealing works. In some ways straightforwardly pious, it is also tinged with mischievous irreverence and a sense of rollicking enjoyment - facets which are deftly captured here by the soprano soloist Susan Gritton, Polyphony, the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Britten Sinfonia, all led by Stephen Layton.
Songlist: Gloria in excelsis Deo, Laudamus te, Domine Deus, Domini Fili unigenite, Domini Deus, angus Dei, Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, Salve Regina, Timor et tremor, Vinea mea electa, Tenebrae factae sunt, Tristis est anima mea, O magnum mysterium, Quem vidistis pastores dicite, Videntes stellam, Hodie Christus natus est, Exultate Deo
Review: The a cappella motets of Anton Bruckner (1824- 1896) are miniature masterpieces, containing intensely expressive harmonic writing and a feeling of private devotion within a generously scaled framework. Here the selection includes Ave Maria, Locus iste, Christus factus est, Vexilla Regis, Os iusti, Virga Jesse floruit and Pange lingua. At the other end of the spectrum, the sensuous Mass No. 2 in E minor inhabits the world of Bruckner's monumental symphonies. Stephen Layton leads the GRAMMY-nominated choir Polyphony (and the Britten Sinfonia, in the Mass) in these gloriously passionate performances.
Songlist: Ave Maria, Locus iste, Mass in No 2 in E Minor, Christus factus est, Vexilla Regis, Os isusti, Virga Jesse Floruit, Pange Lingua
I Will Lift up Mine Eyes
Review: As their recording of Eric Whitacre had a chart-topping run on both sides of the Atlantic, Stephen Layton and Polyphony returned to the studio and put down a second disc devoted to the choral music of Whitacre's compatriot Morten Lauridsen. The popular cycles Mid-Winter Songs and Les chansons des roses (the final number of which, "Dirait-on," caused something of a publishing sensation on its first appearance) are joined by four premiere recordings: two early Psalm settings, and two new works written during the preparations for this recording. Performances from Layton and musicians are every bit as polished as we have come to expect. Polyphony is joined by the Britten Sinfonia for the Mid-Winter Songs, Andrew Lucas for the organ-accompanied Psalm and the composer himself on finger cymbals for Ave, dulcissima Maria. This new disc is certainly a worthy successor to the same forces' GRAMMY nominated Lux aeterna.
Songlist: Mid-Winter Songs, Les Chansons des Roses, I Will Lift up Mine Eyes, O Come, Let us Sing unto the Lord, Ave, Dulcissima Maria
With A Lily in Your Hand
Review: At the age of only 35, Eric Whitacre has already gained a reputation in the United States that many composers strive for a lifetime to achieve. The American Record Guide named his first recording one of the top ten classical albums in 1997, and the Los Angeles Times described his music as having 'electric, chilling harmonies; works of unearthly beauty and imagination'. His Water Night (included on this new recording) has become one of the most popular choral works of the last decade, and is one of the top-selling choral publications of all time. Whitacre's published works have sold well over 350,000 copies worldwide. And who better to represent an innovative young choral composer than Stephen Layton and Polyphony, award-winning exponents of twentieth-century choral music? Under Layton's directorship, Polyphony handles Whitacre's evocative and soulful music with consummate artistry; from the quiet intensity of Sleep to the breathtaking exuberance of With a lily in your hand, by way of the tender innocence of This Marriage (one of three premiere recordings on the disc), this new recording is a stunning showcase both for an up-and-coming young composer and also for the awesome talents of one of the UK's leading choirs.
Songlist: I Thank You God For Most This Amazing Day, I Hide Myself, Sleep, I Will Wade Out, Go, Lovely Rose, When David Heard, Hope, Faith, Life, Love, Cloudburst, With A Lily In Your Hand, This Marriage, Water Night, A Boy And a Girl, Her Sacred Spirit Soars, Lux Aurumque
Review: Stephen Layton directs his 21-mixed-voice Polyphony, which he founded in 1986 at King's College, Cambridge, in some of Morten Lauridsen's most beloved works, accompanied by the Britten Sinfonia. The 5 movements of title tune are first, and is as lovely (accompanied, of course) as we have ever heard it. "Madrigali: Six Fire Songs on Italian Renaissance Poems" follow, exuberant, spirited a cappella pieces. The recording concludes with Lauridsen's beautiful a cappella "Ave Maria," haunting, chantlike "Ubi caritas et amor" and the classic "O magnum mysterium." Lauridsen is pictured in the extensive liner notes giving his personal direction to the making of this very fine CD. The best of Lauridsen from talented Polyphony, directed by Layton, and with a wonderful Pre-Raphaelite painting of an angel on the cover-who could ask for more?
Songlist: Lux Aeterna, Madrigali: Six "Fire Songs", Ave Maria, Ubi Caritas et Amor, O Magnum Mysterium
Review: For over a decade Stephen Layton and Polyphony have been astonishing London audiences with their Christmas concert series: 'nothing crowns the year like the annual, exhilarating Eve of Christmas Eve performance of Handel's Messiah by the choir Polyphony under Stephen Layton'. Alongside extravagant oratorio performances, the group has presented a cappella programmes of Christmas music to audiences enthralled by the range of repertoire available. This compact disc brings together music from many of these acclaimed recordings.
Songlist: Silent Night, Sing Lullaby , All This Time, Ave, Maris Stella, Die Konige, O Morgenstern, Magnificat , Nativity Carol , The Sussex Mummer's Carol , A Hymn to the Virgin , Lully, lulla, tho little tiny child , Away in a Manger , O Magnum Mysterium, Bethlehem Down, A Spotless Rose , Chorale after an Old French Carol , What cheer?, Lullaby my Jesus , Shepherd's Pipe Carol
Review: If John Tavener's music has always been concerned with eternity, and if it has always confounded those who have horizons no wider than Western traditions of the recent past, it is also true to say that the ways in which he has dealt with the sacred in his work have been characterized by considerable variety, and have never ceased on occasion to surprise. Initially, surprise was caused by his stripping away of the unnecessary, his quest for the musically - and therefore the spiritually - essential. This quest led to a vast outpouring of music, encompassing a great many miniatures and large-scale compositions of the stature of the Vigil Service and Eis Thanaton. 'The power of Tavener at his best is fully unlocked by Polyphony and Stephen Layton, whose sensitivity to the sacred and human in his music communicates in every work on this disc' (Classic FM Magazine).
Songlist: Birthday Sleep, Butterfly Dreams, The Second Coming, Schuon Hymnen, As one who has slept, The Bridal Chamber, Exhortation and Kohima, Shunya
Review: The performances are uniformly excellent; Stephen Layton and his Polyphony vocal ensemble have shown a previous affinity for Rutter's work and this effort simply reaffirms their commitment to and love for this very special music. With the first notes of the joyous "Shepherd's Pipe Carol," we know that Christmas is coming and John Rutter is the man when it comes to Christmas music! And on "Music," we have 22 of Rutter's finest carols, lullabyes and other Christmas songs, sung by talented mixed ensemble Polyphony, conducted by Stephen Layton and accompanied on most tunes by the City of London Sinfonia. Favorites are the wistful, unaccompanied "There is a Flower," "Sans Day Carol," "I wonder as I wander," the lilting, joyful "Jesus Child," "The very best time of year," "Angel Tidings," "Christmas Lullabye," the exciting "Star Carol," "Carol of the Children," "Mary's Lullabye," "Angels' Carol" and the final cut, "Donkey Carol." A very special Christmas collection, sure to become some of your family's favorite music of the season! Beautiful, extensive liner notes, with a wonderful painting of the Three Wise Men on the cover. Outstanding.
Songlist: Shepherd's Pipe Carol, Nativity Carol, There is a Flower, Sans Day Carol, What Sweeter Music, I wonder as I wander, Jesus Child, Wild Wood Carol, The very best time of year, Away in a Manger, Angel Tidings, Christmas Lullaby, Dormi Jesu, Love came down at Christmas, Star Carol, Carol of the Children, Mary's Lullaby , Silent Night, Angels' Carol, Candlelight Carol, Second Amen, Donkey Carol
Review: Benjamin Britten is one of England's most revered composers of the 20th century. From operas to songs, he knew how to write for the voice. Well known for his works for children's voices, his writing for adult choirs is not as often performed. Polyphony, led by Stephen Layton, sings some of his great choral pieces. "Five Flower Songs," with texts by Herrick, Crabbe and Clare, range from the lush tones of "To Daffodils" to the harsher and stinging tones used to depict the more earthy plants described in "Marsh Flowers." Britten composed "Sacred and Profane" as a virtuoso display piece for Peter Pears' Wilbye Singers. The eight medieval lyrics are combined with difficult but exquisite harmonies to create amazing sounds.
Songlist: Five FLower Songs, A.M.D.G., A Hymn to thye Virgin, Choral Dances from 'Gloriana', Chorale after an Old French Carol, Sacred and Profane Op 91
Review: Gloria (a concert work, despite the use of a religious text) was commissioned by the Voices of Mel Olson in Omaha, Nebraska, who invited Rutter to direct the first performance in 1974. The words come from the second section (the Hymn of Praise) of the Ordinary of the Mass, which in the liturgy follows the 'Kyrie'. The familiar opening words are those of the angels proclaiming the birth of Jesus, as found in the second chapter of Luke's Gospel. Rutter's setting is based largely on one of the Gregorian chants with which the text is associated. He describes the three movements as 'roughly corresponding to traditional symphonic structure', the mood of the sections being respectively 'exalted, devotional and jubilant by turns'. The use of organ, brass and percussion makes for plenty of Waltonian punch in the outer movements and yet also for a hauntingly ethereal middle section. 'Delicious performances of Rutter's wonderfully approachable and finely crafted vocal writing. The sound, too, is outstanding' (Gramophone)
Songlist: Gloria I : Allegro vivace, Gloria II : Andante, Gloria III : Vivace e ritmico, Come down, O Love divine, Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace, To everything there is a season, I my Best-Beloved's am, Praise the Lord, O my soul, I will lift up mine eyes, As the bridegroom to his chosen, A Clare Benediction, The Lord is my light and my salvation, Go forth into the world, Thy perfect love, Te Deum
Review: Peter Cornelius was born to actor parents and destined from early life to have a career centred on words and music. After early influences from Beethoven and Schubert, and studies of form and the composition of sacred music in Berlin, Cornelius's musical style matured under the tutelage of Liszt in Weimar. On their first meeting Liszt encouraged Cornelius to compose sacred music, however Cornelius then turned to the composition of opera and song whilst developing his natural gift in poetry. Choral works, however, remained an important part of Cornelius's compositions - many with sacred texts. Mention the name Cornelius to most music lovers and their immediate reaction will be 'Isn't he the man who wrote the song heard at Christmas - Three Kings?' Indeed he is and this piece can be heard on track 6 (Drei Konige). However, this disc also explores the other wonderful choral music written by Cornelius. All of these pieces deserve to be heard more!
Songlist: Requiem, Die Vatergruft, Drei Chorgesange Op 11, Der Tod, das ist die kuhle Nacht, An den Sturmwind, Die drei Fruhlingstage, Die Konige Op 8 No 3, Liebe: Ein Zyklus von 3 Chorlidern Op 18, Liebe, dir ergeb' ich mich!, Ich will dich lieven meine Krone!, Thron der Liebe, Stern der Gute, Der alte Soldat Op 12 No 1, Drei Psalmlieder Op 13, Busslied, An Babels Wasserflussen, Jerusalem, So weich und warm, Trauerchore Op 9 (men only), Ach, wie nichtig, ach, wie fluchtig, Nicht die Trane kann es sagen, Mitten wir Leben sind, Grablied, Von dem Dome, schwer und bang, Trust in Tranen Op. 14
Review: John Rutter composed his Requiem in 1985. The work follows the precedents of Brahms and Faure in using carefully selected texts in place of much of the standard Missa Pro defunctis sequence. The resulting composition has an arch-like formal structure within which is contained some of Rutter's most haunting (and, in the case of 'The Lord is my shepherd', well known) choral music to date. Also included are two items from the Birthday madrigals collection composed in honour of the jazz pianist George Shearing, and eight further sacred works. The double-choir Hymn to the Creator of Light is a wonderful composition, far removed from the romantic style with which Rutter has sometimes been associated; 'A disc to delight all those who admire Rutter's choral writing. Full of delights and with something for everyone. Certainly a must!' (Organists' Review)
Songlist: Requiem, Requiem aeternam, Out of the deep, Pie Jesu with ROSA MANNION soprano, Sanctus, Agnus Dei , The Lord is my shepherd, Lux aeterna with ROSA MANNION soprano, Hymn to the Creator of Light, God be in my head, A Gaelic Blessing, Cantate Domino, Open thou mine eyes, A Prayer of Saint Patrick, A Choral Fanfare, Draw on, sweet night, My true love hath my heart, The Lord bless you and keep you
Review: O magnum misterium combines the old with the new. On this CD of English carols from the 20th century, Polyphony interpolates Sarum chant to create a magnificent Christmas program. The carols were written by various English composers such as Herbert Howells, Peter Warlock and Richard Rodney Bennett and exemplify the great connection the English have with choral music. The Sarum chant, which was used at Salisbury Cathedral in place of the traditional Roman liturgy, is used purely to relieve the ear from the indulgent sounds of the carols. This CD includes Howells "A Spotless Rose" and "Sing Lullaby" which are possibly better known, but all of the songs are equally beautiful.
Songlist: O radix Iesse, Alleluya, A new Work is come on Hand , A Spotless Rose , Out of your sleep, Of a rose is all my song , There is no rose , As dew in Aprylle , O Magnum Mysterium, Bethlehem Down, That younge child, I saw a fair maiden , Sing Lullaby , Ave Maria , Sweet Was the Song , A Hymn to the Nativity , Lullaby my Jesus , Hodie Christus natus est , All and some , An Ode to the birth of our Saviour , Susanni , Puer natus est nobis , Benedicamus Domino, A Cornish Christmas Carol , Reges Tharsis , Here Is The Little Door, The Star-song , What cheer?, Lully, lulla thou little tiny child, Verbum caro factum est
Review: The pairing of music by Percy Grainger and Edvard Grieg at first may seem odd. In fact, though, the two composers were good friends. Grieg lauded Grainger's folk song settings as helping to create "an independent English music." The choral music of Grainger and Grieg on this CD, sung gloriously by Polyphony, was written in the early 1900's. Most of Grainger's settings are of English folk songs, though there are a few Irish and Scotch ones as well. The CD also includes a song from Grainger's native Australia (Track 18 Australian Up-Country Song). The Four Psalms by Grieg are his last completed works and are based on Norwegian church melodies. To further connect the composers, the English translations of the psalms were written by Grainger. This wonderful recording also features soloists tenor Paul Agnew and baritone David Wilson-Johnson.
Songlist: Percy Grainger:, Irish Tune from County Derry, Dollar and a Half a Day, Shenandoah, Stormy, The Gypsy's Wedding Day, Brigg Fair, Mo nighean dubh, O Mistress Mine, Edvard Grieg, Four Psalms, How Fair is Thy face, God's Son hath set me free, Jesus Christ our Lord is risen, In heav'n above, Ave, Maris Stella, Percy Grainger, Soldier, soldier, Mary Thomson, Ye banks and braes, Dalvisa, Australian Up-Country Song, Near Woodstock Town, The Sussex Mummers' Carol, A Song of Varmeland, At Twilight