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CD Review

Transcriptions 2

Accentus/Laurence Equilbey
Naïve V5048 DDD 62:03
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Arrangements and transcriptions can be very clever, but sometimes the cleverness is all that we are left with. That's how much of the work of the Swingle Singers makes me feel. At other times, the results are ineffably beautiful, and they amplify everything about the music. Such is the case with the transcriptions on this CD. This is a follow-up to the first Transcriptions CD, also with Accentus and director Equilbey (Naïve V4947), in which music by Bach, Barber, Berg, Chopin, Debussy, Mahler, Ravel, and Wolf was similarly treated.

These transcriptions are by Franck Krawczyk, Clytus Gottwald, Peter Cornelius, Gérard Pesson, and Thierry Machuel. An interesting gauntlet of challenges has been conquered here. Some works, such as the complete "Winter" from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and two movements from Ravel's Mother Goose, are completely instrumental, and so words needed to be found to complement and fit the music. That probably was the easy part; more difficult was the transcription of an instrumental part into something that was possible, albeit often just barely, for human voices to sing. (Granted, the members of Accentus seem to be capable of just about everything.) Odder yet are the two movements from Ravel's Shéhérazade. Originally scored for voice and orchestra, Gérard Pesson, has transcribed both the voice and the orchestral parts for Accentus. In pieces which exist in versions for voice and piano, and also for voice and orchestra, the transcribers have used the latter as the basis for their transcriptions… so everything gets thrown into the mix, not just the vocal line. Another oddity is the Schubert Grablied. Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" Quartet is so named because the second movement is a set of variations on the melody from Schubert's Lied by the same name. Instead of merely transcribing the original Lied for chorus, Peter Cornelius has taken the string quartet as his model for this Grablied. Indeed, the Swingle Singers this is not!

To give credit where credit is due, although most of these performances are unaccompanied, pianist Brigitte Engerer helps out in Schubert's Litanei, and small Baroque ensemble, Les Monts de Reuil, makes Vivaldi's wintry landscape that much colder. Soprano Solange Añorga, apparently not a regular member of Accentus, sings in several of the selections.

There are 32 members of Accentus, an ensemble that seems to have been patterned after Clytus Gottwald's Schola Cantorum Stuttgart. Accentus was founded by Equilbey more than a decade ago, and has made nine earlier CDs for Naïve including the aforementioned Transcriptions disc. Here's a group that has everything: perfect tuning, pinpoint accuracy, artistic sensitivity, courage, imagination, and heart. When they start to sing, everything else stops to listen. The engineering team wisely chose the recording venue, and just as wisely, accepted the evocative reverberation that it added. One might say that the Arsenal in Metz (France, I assume), is the sustaining pedal on Accentus's piano.

This is one of the most strikingly beautiful CDs to be released so far in 2007.

Copyright © 2007, Raymond Tuttle