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Birds of Paradise
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Trois beaux oiseaux du Paradis (1914-15) [3:07]
Jonathan HARVEY (1939-2012)
Song of June (1960) [3:42]
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Die Nachtigall – arranged by Clytus Gottwald (c. 1905-8) [2:44]
Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
La Mort du Rossignol (1938) [3:14]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
The Nightingales (1934-7) [3:05]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Waldvögelein (1843) [2:09]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The Turtle Dove (1919) [3:13]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Mondnacht - arranged by Clytus Gottwald (1840) [4:13]
David COX (b. 1945)
The Crow (1957) [3:22]
Joseph RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Abendfriede (1888) [2:20]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
The Blue Bird (publ. 1910) [3:25] (a)
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Frühlingssehnsucht (1895) [3:59]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Un Cygne (1939) [2:05]
Ivor R. DAVIES (1901-1971)
The Prayer of the Raven (?) [1:12]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Waldesnacht (1874) [5:59]
Stephen WILKINSON (b. 1919)
The lark in the clear air [3:54]
Grace Davidson (soprano); Clare Wilkinson (mezzo); Adriaan De Koster (tenor); Marcus Farnsworth (baritone)
Octopus Chamber Choir/Bart Van Reyn
rec. Elzenveld Chapel, Antwerp, 14-15, 21-22 February 2015
ETCETERA KTC1529 [51:43]

This is an interesting and enjoyable selection of choral pieces on the theme of birds – not all of them birds of paradise. The CD takes its name from the lovely opening piece by Ravel - from his Trois chansons - which makes me wonder why he didn't compose more choral music. Most of the items with no mention of a specific bird in their title include avian references in the text. It is good to find less obvious works by Jonathan Harvey, Florent Schmitt, Hindemith and Ivor R. Davies. However, the two arrangements of songs by Berg and Schumann are only moderately successful. These versions, perhaps arranged specially to fit in with the bird theme, feel a little contrived, each piece sounding more beautiful and effective in the original version for voice and piano - or orchestral alternative in the Berg.

The music on the CD spans not much more than a hundred years, with Romanticism dominating. Nevertheless, pairs of consecutive tracks illustrate the variety offered here. The opening Ravel leads to Harvey's more astringent manner. Mendelssohn's joyful setting of Die Waldvögelein (from his Sechs Lieder, Op. 88) is followed by one of Vaughan Williams' most beautiful folk-song arrangements, The Turtle Dove. The juxtaposition of Hindemith's Rilke setting, Un Cygne, and Ivor R. Davies' bracing Prayer of the Raven creates a similarly marked contrast. I particularly like the incongruity of the crow and the raven amongst nightingales, swans, swallows, turtle doves and larks. As a bird-lover myself, I have to say that plumage is merely the most obvious of their wonderful qualities, and the birds of the crow family are among the most interesting in their behaviour and general intelligence. David Cox has chosen his words about the crow not from a poem but a piece of prose from a 19-book encyclopedia by the 13th-century Franciscan scholar Bartholomaeus Anglicus.

Founded in 2000 by Bart Van Reyn, the Belgian-based Octopus Chamber Choir produces a well-balanced sound with only occasional hardness from the sopranos. The Berg provokes some discomfort in one cruelly high soprano entry near the end. The solo contributions are generally good.

There is a discrepancy in the dates given for Ivor R. Davies – those on page 10 (1901-1971) are correct, but page 45 has 1893-1951. Hindemith's Le Cygne twice appears as Le Cigne; the two spellings may be seen within an inch of each other on p 45. Otherwise the booklet has very informative notes by an anonymous writer.

Philip Borg-Wheeler



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