This is very much outside my usual experience of Carus discs.
The label has earned a good reputation for German vocal music
of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries in particular, and
many have been reviewed on this site. Here, however, I see the
names Mercury, John and Withers and append the forenames Freddie,
Elton and Bill, and I think to myself: a baroque cantata by
the Academy trained Elton John? Seems unlikely.
What we do have is a recital by the Calmus Ensemble of music
across the centuries presented to ‘transport’ the
listener and persuade him that madrigals, pop songs and baroque
classical pieces lie ‘so close to each other’. Looking
at their interests shows a group keen on Renaissance polyphony
and 1920s chanson: a flexible group, then, but how successful
are they in persuading one that Leonard Cohen can lie down -
musically speaking - with Claudio Monteverdi?
Not very, I’m afraid. There’s no point taking a
work of ambiguous erotic intensity like Cohen’s Dance
Me to the End of Love and convert it to Weimar parlando.
A greater sin is to ruin Cohen’s rhythm, his intricate
verbal dexterity, and to impose wordless curlicues.
Elton John’s Your Song gets a cutesy reading courtesy
of Ludwig Böhme who is credited with most of the arrangements.
Soprano Anja Pöche has by far the best English but the
men mangle the words so that ‘some of the werses gat me
kvite kroz’. Love of My Life is a nice Freddie
Mercury song that survives neither arrangement nor performance.
The worst is yet to come, so stand back for Eric Idle’s
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, which you need
to do when you hear what the Calmus Ensemble does with it. I
took a near-terminal breath.
The classical things are much better; decent, sensitive Purcell,
OK bird imitations in Janequin, predictably effective Schütz.
There are little ‘interludes’ between some of the
tracks - modulating moments where they go vocally from one track
to another to establish a new mood, much as nineteenth century
pianists use to modulate between pieces, especially to establish
I’m afraid this just didn’t work for me. I was indeed
transported but not, I fear, in the way intended. The
vocal quintet - soprano, counter-tenor, tenor, baritone and
bass - just need far better arrangements, far more musical discretion,
and a much more acute sense of self-criticism.