Album Review

Posted: Saturday 11th October 2003
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Deep Purple – Classical Music Web

You’ll notice that a number of the arrangements, plus one original item, are by Ward Swingle. We’re told that he came to work with the Vasari Singers before this CD was made, presumably to help them ‘swing’ stylishly in this music, most of which is jazz-inspired. Another obvious, and perhaps superficial, sign of his guidance is the use of appropriately Americanised pronunciation. For example, we have a ‘nidingale’ singing in Berkeley Square, and we’re ‘crassing’ Moon River in style. Put this way, it sounds as if it would be affected, but in fact comes over as perfectly natural. (Isn’t it odd, by the way, that our choirs have to work at authentic American diction, while our pop singers are mostly unable to resist adopting a cod transatlantic accent for their offerings?).

Swingle’s work has not been in vain, for the Singers turn in delightfully stylish interpretations of these numbers, many of which are classics in their own right. It helps that the arrangements, many of which are a capella, are superb, and the choir’s sense of enjoyment comes over strongly. The programme is that much more enjoyable for including a number of items by modern English composers, the first of which are the delightful Birthday Madrigals by John Rutter. This commences with a setting of Shakespeare’s It was a lover and his lass – irresistible, and supported by a jazz trio of piano bass and drums. Later on, we have the exciting Dances in the Streets of Bob Chilcott. Thoughtful programme planning here, for these two pieces, entitled Soho and Paddington follow on with geographical logic from A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.

The general standard of this group is very high, with diction, ensemble and rhythmic discipline all of splendid quality. Tone and blend are not quite so outstanding, partly because the men’s voices are not as good as those of the women, and partly because there are one or two sopranos whose voices protrude ever so slightly from the texture in long-held notes from time to time. Intonation (i.e. tuning) is mostly superb, but sopranos are sometimes just under the note when singing in the upper-middle of the stave. This is never bad enough to be really distracting, but it’s something their excellent conductor, Jeremy Backhouse, will want to keep working on.

It’s things like this, together with the variable quality of the solos from the choir (some of which are terrific, others undistinguished), which stops the disc being of top-notch quality. However, it is the sort of CD which provides terrific publicity for the choir, and will sell like hot cakes at their concerts. Personally, I’m just looking forward to an opportunity to hear them ‘live’!

Gwyn Parry-Jones
Classical Music Web