Why should a vocal ensemble be named after
a green vegetable? This and other questions occupied me as I
began to listen to this CD. Perhaps all the singers in the group
are vegans; vocalists are after all famed for their pure and
I visited their web-site for enlightenment,
but none did I find.
Suffice it to say that, putting such vexations
on one side, this particular mixed salad gives great pleasure,
dressed or otherwise. The breadth of repertoire tackled here
is stunning; Janequin and de Flecha from the 15th
century are found side-by-side with Sondheim and whipper-snappers
like Roderick Williams. This, and the fact that I Fagiolini
perform the various styles so confidently, makes this disc most
rewarding and entertaining.
There is plenty of humour, too, in particular
in the outrageous Hey Trolly Loly lo, complete with appalling
Mummerset accents, and in the blacker comedy of Britten’s A
Death from Sacred and Profane, one of his last works.
Along the way, we have the vivid word-painting of Janequin’s
hunt, the languorous dissonances of Infantas’ Pentecost motet
Loquebantur variis linguis, and the ravishing sensuality
of Debussy’s Orléans setting.
The two contemporary settings, one by Roderick
Williams, the other by William Brooks, are both well worth hearing.
The Williams contains many amusing descriptive touches, while
Brooks goes for vocal pyrotechnics plus stylistic parody, touching
on Gospel and various varieties of close harmony singing – huge
fun, and followed by some unironic close harmony in a
simply gorgeous version of Sondheim’s Losing my Mind.
This kind of free-ranging repertoire obviously
brings to mind such pioneering groups as the Kings Singers and
Swingle II; comparisons are odious, but suffice it to say that
I Fagiolini can live comfortably with that sort of competition.
In any case, the sweetness of the women’s voices provide them
with something that the Kings Singers could never have, and
it’s arguable that the quality of the individual voices is higher
than those of Swingle II even in its heyday. There is no untoward
use of close-up in the recording here; the voices sound as natural
as possible, allowing the fine internal balance of the group
to come across.
In truth, this is a superb issue, which will
satisfy a wide range of tastes; might it fall between several
stools? I don’t know, but I don’t think so, and I certainly
hope not, because everybody who loves top-notch ensemble singing
will lap this up. And one other thing; I couldn’t sign off without
mentioning the very beautiful solo singing of countertenor Robin
Blaze in Sweeter than Roses, sensitively accompanied
by Elizabeth Kenny - worth the money all on its own.