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Boni Pueri – Czech Boys Choir
ANON Pueri hebraeorum
Orlando di LASSO (1532-1594) O la o che bon eccho
Lara HOGGARD Personent hodie
César FRANCK (1822-1890) Panis Angelicus
G.F.HANDEL (1685-1759) Hallelujah (from Messiah)

J.C.F.FISCHER (C.1670-1746) Kyrie, Gloria (from Missa inventionis Sanctae Crucis)

P.V. VEJVANOVSKY (1639-1693) Confitebur (Psalm 111)

J.D.ZELENKA (1679-1745) Vos oriens adoret (from Sub olea pacis et palma virtutis)
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) Goin’ Home (from Symphony no.9 from the New World)
Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884) Proc bychom se netesili (from The Bartered Bride)
TRAD. O Lasko, Lasko (Moravian)
TRAD. Mikulecka Dedina (Moravian)
TRAD. Waltzing Matilda (Australia)
TRAD. Buenos Aires no fuera asi (Argentina)
TRAD. Sakura (Japan)
TRAD. Siyahamba (Zulu spiritual)

Czech Boys Choir/Pavel Horák, Jakub Martinec, Marek Strynel, Martin
Fila,piano, František Varucek, organ, with Anna Hlavenkova, soprano, Noemi
Kiss,soprano, Lukas Sadovsky, soprano, Markus Forster, countertenor, Martin
Ptacek, countertenor, Jaroslav Brezina, tenor, Adam Zdunikowski, tenor, Mikal
Pospisil, bass, Ales Prochaska, tenor, Musica Aeterna, Ensemble Philidor, Musica
Recorded in the City Music hall, Hradec Králové October 2000, March 2002, in the
Tothmayer Hall of Prague Castle, July 2000, and the Bailica of the assumption of the
Virgin Mary, Strahov,. Prague, July and September 2001
SUPRAPHON SU 3764-2231 [62:47]

There is such charm about the way these ‘good boys’ from the Czech Republic sing, making this disc a delightful experience, despite some quirky aspects. The singing is straightforward, honest, with a tremendous sense of enjoyment and often great beauty of tone. There is also a disarming simplicity, a refreshing, unsophisticated quality, so different from the sometimes overly self-conscious artistry of English cathedral choirs. Standards here are very high, yet the chief aim is communication of the music and of pleasure in its performance.

The programme is surprisingly wide-ranging, but there are some gems in each of the sections. We begin with plainsong, moving on into Renaissance and Baroque music. The engaging Lassus ‘echo’ number is followed by a rousing Personent hodie, which has an irresistible rhythmic lift to it. The ‘pop’ items, Panis Angelicus and the Hallelujah chorus may be less interesting, but I have to mention the excellent treble in the former, who surely should be credited (Sample 1, track 4).

Of the three Czech works, the Zelenka is easily the most interesting – a grand Handelian utterance of great ingenuity and energy. It’s a pity the booklet gives so little information; Vejvanovsky, for example, is a fascinating figure, who, though a composer of considerable skill, made his living principally as a trumpeter and music copyist. His Monteverdian Confitebor receives a lively performance, with stylish contributions from the instrumentalists of ‘Musica florea’.

The ‘Dvořák’ number ‘Goin’ home’, a maudlin version of the New World’s Largo melody, appears here in a rather lack-lustre arrangement, with some very odd harmonies. The Czech folk-songs and the opening chorus of the Bartered Bride (sample 2, track 10), on the other hand, receive convincing performances, reminding me of how unusually beautiful is the sound of the Czech language. Lovers of choral singing will particularly enjoy the ‘l’ sounds, which the boys roll their tongues round with relish.

The traditional numbers from around the world which form the next group – from Australia, Argentina, Japan and Southern Africa - are probably the most enjoyable part of the disc. This arrangement of Waltzing Matilda is an especially good one, moving from a quiet sentimental opening to a jazzy conclusion (Sample 3, track 13). The Czech pronunciation of the English (or should that be ‘Strine’?) is pleasantly hilarious, with words like ‘billabong’, for example, coming out as ‘billabonk’. All adds to the fun! The Zulu marching song Siyahamba is now a great favourite of choirs in this country, and it’s given a splendid going over, complete with drums and appropriate ululation.

The Broadway medley with which the disc ends is not so wholly convincing. If you are going to do music like this, you need excellent arrangements; Chattanooga Choo-choo is fine, as are Hello Dolly and Over the Rainbow. But the two Bernstein melodies that complete the set are clumsily arranged, with lame harmonies and incorrect melody lines (in America). This is unfortunate, firstly because the boys actually sing them pretty well, and secondly because it leaves one with a false impression at the CD’s conclusion. No doubt the choir have issued this very eclectic compilation with half an eye on encouraging touring possibilities. But these items would have been best left out.

Nonetheless, the overall standard is high, with a handful of numbers that are quite wonderful. Though the recordings have been made in so many different venues, this isn’t really a problem, and the quality of balance etc. is extremely good. A mixed bag, then, in every sense, but one with plenty of lovely things in it.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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