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Review: Accentus: Transcriptions

April 9, 2009

Review of Accentus Choir’s new double CD album Transcriptions released by Naive Classique

Grandiose hyperbole certainly is appropriate when it comes to the new album by Accentus entitled Transcriptions.  I could tell you that any track on the two CDs alone is worth the price of the album, or that its the only choral album you need to buy this year, but you wouldn’t take me serious because its unfortunately customary for reviewers to go over the top when writing about things they like.  That said, it isn’t customary for an ensemble to take a risk like Accentus did with the pieces they chose for this project.  It also isn’t customary for that gamble to pay the overwhelming dividends it did.

As the story goes for this album, somewhere around the Baroque era, the practice of arranging vocal music for instrumentalists ended and instead instrumentalists took to arranging music for their instruments that was originally music for other instruments.  As time went on, instrumental music became a more popular vehicle for composers to explore timbre and technical virtuosity than the medium of choral music.  Transcriptions comes full circle in a sense, and revisits the music of romantic composers written for instruments or solo voice and accompaniment and translates them to the choral ensemble. 

The results are simply startling.  The works take on an entirely different character as the voices thanks to the blending of the voices.  It is remarkable how well the music of these mostly Romantic (and earlier) composers reminds the listener of the micropolyphany of Ligeti just by mapping the instrumental lines to different voices.  The choir’s timbre changes as individual voices rise, fall, appear and disappear. 

As a devout non-singer, I’m generally impressed by all singing, but the technical demands put on the members of Accentus must be remarkable.  Just the ear training and confidence necessary to assert your part in the mix alone is great.

I’m also not going to go into individual pieces because if I start that, I’m going to end up talking about each one which will unfortunately lead to me losing a few hours of time and not realizing it until a random moment of clarity occurs and I realized I just wrote a 600 word run on sentence (probably when the interview, in French, that is packaged on the two cds begins and I realize I’m listening to something I cannot even begin to understand).

Just find a way to listen to this album.  Its really good.

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