Album Review

Posted: Sunday 11th February 2001
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Pastorale: French Choral Works – International Record Review

This is distinguished singing from a superb choir, and – for once – a programme of music by seven composers does not appear as a hodgepodge of little appeal. There is some astonishingly original choral writing here, particularly to be found in those pieces which are almost never heard, and the reasons for their neglect can have little to do with the quality of the music. Delibes’s Les Norwègiennes, with a remarkable ‘slipping on the ice’ onomatopoeia, is a case in point, and the first of Saint-Saëns’s Deux Chansons, Op.68 – ‘Calme des nuits’ – is a wondrous piece. It is fascinating to hear Canteloube’s a cappella settings of two of the more famous of his songs of the Auvergne, notably the haunting ‘Baïléro’ alongside the equally well-known Fauré Madrigal and Pavane, with piano accompaniment, the choral writing in the latter work coming across with exemplary clarity. So good are these that one might put in a plea for a whole disc of Fauré’s church music by the Vasari Singers. Throughout this deeply impressive recital it is well-nigh impossible to choose one track above any other, so consistently attractive and moving are the music and the manner of the performances. The Ravel chansons, to his own texts, are brilliantly done here; Massenet’s Amaranthe songs are a real treasure, and Jeremy Filsell’s piano accompaniments are excellent.

The recordings have been carefully balanced with the occasional piano accompaniment in order to maintain the clarity of the choral writing, and the acoustic of the Great Hall of Dulwich College is well suited to this repertoire. Although there is a suspicion of high notes occasionally ‘catching’ the microphone, nothing should prevent an enthusiastic recommendation for a conspicuously successful album, which is completed by good notes from David Bray. The booklet also has full texts and translations.

Robert Matthew-Walker
International Record Review