This all-male Dutch choir, founded in 1999, has made a considerable
impact in just 13 years. It has recorded a number of discs for Channel,
ranging from Renaissance repertoire through to 20th-century
French music and a sprinkling of popular tunes. It is joined by the Haags
Saxophone Quartet and percussionist Michel Ponsioen, all under the watchful
eye of producer Jared Sacks, who’s responsible for the label’s
many fine Super Audio recordings. Lavinia Meijer’s harp recital
Visions, one of my picks for 2010, is a prime example of
Channel’s high production values, combining as it does good
programming, fine musicianship and class-leading sonics (review).
These arrangements are a delight from start to finish. The melting
intro to Things Are Looking Up confirms these instrumentalists are a
spirited, rhythmically alert band. Soprano Johannette Zomer can’t
always be described as idiomatic, although her bright, silvery tones are
pleasing enough; the same is true of The Gents, who are unmistakably
European in their inflexions and style. That’s not a criticism, for
they sing with gusto and good humour throughout. The arrangements are never
less than engaging, and conductor Béni Csillag keeps his performers
on their toes. Their a cappella rendition of the alliterative
Sing of Spring is particularly winsome, and the recording has
plenty of warmth and detail in both its Red Book and Super Audio layers.
There’s a terrific sense of fun here, with Zomer and the choir
pointed and playful in The Jolly Tar and the Milkmaid. As for Nice
Work If You Can Get It this has a perfect blend of jazzy languor and
vocal snap that had me reaching for the repeat button. Ditto Johan van der
Linden’s now piquant, now plaintive arrangement of Rhapsody
in Blue, which is played with astonishing virtuosity and style by
this talented foursome. Rhythms are always supple and the competing timbres
of these instruments makes for a bracing musical mix. The plunging baritone
sax is especially well caught, and the soprano sax - while suitably piercing
- isn’t remotely fatiguing. Overall balance is immediate without being
I did say that these forces don’t always sound very idiomatic,
yet I’m prepared to eat my hat, humble pie or anything else when it
comes to the verve and vigour of Fascinating Rhythm.
Foot-tappin’ fabulous is the best way to characterise this fizzy
little number. Meanwhile Zomer’s Summertime from Porgy and
Bess is vocally agile and nicely shaded, and The Gents do a fine job as
a backing group. I’m less comfortable with her steely glare in My
Man’s Gone Now, although her vocal reach is certainly thrilling.
I’m also lukewarm about Sportin’ Life’s big number It
Ain’t Necessarily So, which is perhaps the least convincing track
Even though the quality of arrangements and music-making tails off
towards the end there’s still much to enjoy on this disc. One last
gripe though; what a pity Channel insist on flimsy, easily scuffed Digipaks
for their premium products. Minor caveats, and they certainly don’t
dampen my enthusiasm for this album as a whole.
Big ‘n’ brassy; fans of The Gents need not hesitate.