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Shall I Compare Thee? Choral Songs on Shakespeare Texts.

Shall I Compare Thee ? Choral Songs on Shakespeare Texts. Chicago a capella. Cedille CDR 900000 085.

If the success of an album depends on the number of times one throws it into the player, then "Shall I Compare?" must be my record of the year. This disc features one-of-a-kind songs based on Shakespearean texts, immaculate a capella singing, and an equally immaculate recording. The results are hard to resist.

The Chicago a capella ensemble consists of nine voices: four women (two sopranos and two mezzos) and five men (two tenors, two baritones, and a bass). They sing like nineteen voices. Such is the case with a good a capella choir, and coincidentally I had also just listened to an album by the all-male Chanticleer group that I usually like so much. But i had found Chanticleer's latest effort a bit tedious and the recording more resonant that I cared for. Not so here. The music "Shall I Compare Thee?" is continuously fascinating, and the recording (by Cedille Records engineer Bill Maylone, whose work I have complimented before) could hardly be bettered.

All of the songs are rooted in the words of Shakespeare, either from the plays or sonnets, and they are unique in that the music was all written by contemporary composers. Of the nine composers, eight of them are still alive (and I assume well and thriving). In 2002 Chicago a capella sent out an invitation for scores based on Shakespearean texts for a concert they performed in early 2003. They included only the best scores in the concert, and they have recorded many of them here, twenty-four in all. As the group's leader, Jonathan Miller, explains in the booklet insert, "... the intent of this disc remains to showcase the music of composers of our time, who have so deftly and lovingly set to music the immortal words of Shakespeare."

The album includes the music of composers Kevin Olson, Martha Sullivan, Jaakko Mantyjarvi, Mattheew Harris, Nils Lindberg, Hakan Parkman, Gyorgy Orban, Juhani Komulainen, Robert Applebaum, and most famous of all, John Rutter. Seven of the twenty-four selections are world-premiere recordings, while the rest date from fairly recent vintage.

Among my favorites: The opening "Summer Sonnet" and "Blow, blow, thou winter wind"; a jazzy "Take, O Take Those Lips Away"; a truly astonishing "O Weary Night" from A Midsummer Night's Dream with cascading voices; and a fairly silly "Witches' Blues" from Macbeth. If you enjoy the sound of the unaccompanied human voice, and you enjoy the sound of a matchless recording, not too close, not too distant, not too reverberant, nor too dry, then "Shall I Compare Thee?" is an album to cherish.
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Author:Puccio, John
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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