"Shakespeare, for me, is like cough syrup. It's good to have once in a while, but a spoon of it once a year is all you need. Nothing against the Bard, I just wouldn't want him over for my dinner party. But I try to keep an open mind - at least for a few minutes - so I popped the disc into an SACD player and listened.I heard something new, and something unexpected. Here, the Phoenix Bach Choir doesn't offer some type of trite and foolishly cheerful Renaissance romp, but instead, new settings of old texts.First, the quality of the recording is superb - listening in 5.1 surround it feels as though the group is singing to you in your living room, albeit in a much better acoustic without the drapes, carpet and recliner. Second, the quality of the sound of the ensemble is exquisite, even in extreme dynamic ranges or technically difficult passages. Bruffy and his singers offer impeccable blend, ideal choral balance, spot-on intonation, careful attention to the ebb and flow of the text, and absolute control of technique, especially in complex polyphonic sections.These qualities should be reason enough for anyone to buy the album, even though these attributes should be (but often aren't) par for the course for professional choral ensembles. While the introspective interpretation of the music is an excellent quality, the innovative sounds of these (perhaps unfamiliar) composers are truly wonderful. All of the composers featured on the album have written music during the past 100 years, and the several songs are fresh and accessible. The Matthew Harris "Shakespeare Songs" are absolutely addictive - you'll find yourself humming these tunes while you make your morning muffins. The Nils Lindberg "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" is a mellow and jazzy piece, conjuring images of a choral ensemble around the piano at a martini bar. Alan Murray's "O Mistress Mine" is a very English-sounding anthem that, words aside, wouldn't sound out of place in an Anglican church service.To be fair, the other selections on the disc are not as immediately pleasing. The dark, edgy pieces by Frank Martin and Steven Sametz are the best examples, full of brooding and bite. The Vaughan Williams pieces are much more bitter than one might expect from this beloved composer. Unfortunately, these melancholy, hazy selections tend to get buried together on the album, so be sure to sample things out of order as you listen. I suspect that these other pieces are like a good coffee that one must appreciate over several tastings. But perhaps this coffee needs another spoonful of sugar. But after the SACD has stopped spinning, I realize that this music has offered me a window to profundity. As I encountered this offering of art, bringing to it all of my prior judgements and feelings, I found that this music activates a point of resonance within myself. Upon reflection, I realized what I heard was the hum of the universal experience of the human condition, the clear ring of music that is carefully laid out as a mirror before the soul. While most of this album is dark, brooding, and edgy, there is a familiar echo in the sonorities that stays with you like a distant, bittersweet, mysterious, but much treasured, memory."
Stunningly Good : You've GOT to Hear This in SACD!
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 03/02/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a Kansas Citian, I've had many years experience hearing Charles Bruffy work his magic with choral singers; his home church is a quarter-mile from my home and even his small amateur church choir is wonderful. The Kansas City Chorale, his first professional choir, has made memorable recordings for Nimbus. And now his Phoenix Bach Choir is recording for Chandos. As a recent article by James Reel in Fanfare puts it, Bruffy 'is one of the next big things in American choral music. He's mentioned in the same breath with his former mentor, Robert Shaw.' Possibly my most memorable choral music experience was several years ago when Bruffy combined the Kansas City and Phoenix choirs to sing Thomas Tallis's legendary 'Spem in alium,' with 40+ singers ranged around the periphery of an oval cathedral space with the audience in the middle. Waves of polyphony came crashing over the audience from different directions like musical tidal waves. Extraordinary!
This recording of music set to words by Shakespeare is not the usual olde tyme music, but rather is all from the 20th (and in at least one case, the 21st) century by well-known composers like Vaughan Williams and Frank Martin, and little-knowns like Matthew Harris and Major Alan Murray. All of it is good, some of it strikingly good (like the Martin, the RVW, and Sametz's 'When he shall die,' written in honor of Louis Botto, the late founder of America's most famous professional choir, Chanticleer, and which the choir apparently learned only two days before the recording date!)
Others have already written in some detail about the program. Let me just add that unless you hear this in SACD you're missing something. I have heard it in both formats and can tell you that the SACD is sensational, not that the plain-vanilla CD lacks anything for that medium. As Bruffy predicts in the Fanfare article, 'Once you listen on SACD you'll never go back.'
This is stunningly beautiful release that I recommend unstintingly. On my wish-list is a recording in SACD of the Phoenix Bach Choir and the Kansas City Chorale reunited to sing 'Spem in alium.' Now THAT would really be something heard in surround sound the way Tallis intended it!
C. O'Connor | NJ, USA | 03/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My chamber group performed the four Mantyjarvi songs, so I bought this album for those four songs alone and because absolutely addicted to most of the album, especially the song by composer Matthew Harris. Hauntingly beautiful. I love this album."
Beautiful, soulful and at times shiveringly wonderful
A-R. Mauuarin | Oslo, Norway | 07/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For a lover of choirmusic - this album is a pearl! The Phoenix Bach Choir are wonderful singers, with enviable technique and intonation... This album is among the stayers on my MP3 player :o)"