SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

The Gents Vocal Ensemble do GERSHWIN – Channel Classics

A definite change of pace for this classical choral music vocal group.

Published on December 12, 2012

GERSHWIN: Things Are Looking Up; I Can’t Be Bothered Now; Stiff Upper Lip; Sing of Spring; The Jolly Tar and the Milkmaid; Foggy day (in London Town); Nice Work If You Can Get It; Rhapsody in Blue; They Can’t Take That Away From Me; Fascinating Rhythm; Summertime; My Man’s Gone Now; It Ain’t Necessarily So; O Lawd, I’m on My Way – The Gents Vocal Ensemble/ Beni Csillag, dir./ Johannette Zomer, sop./ Haags Saxophone Quartet – Channel Classics multichannel SACD CCS SA 33312, 56:42 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***:

The 16-man Dutch vocal group The Gents, known previously for their forays into serious classical choral music spanning many centuries, turns its attention to the singular sensations of composer George Gershwin, a rather detached distance from their other considerations, and one that made me wonder what in the world to expect. The addition of solo soprano Johannette Zomer, who has distinguished herself on any number of other recordings, especially those of Baroque music, spiced the pie, though the presence of the Haags Saxophone Quartet had me trembling at the thought of such a monochromatic accompanying force.

I was not to be disappointed. Not only do they provide the background orchestra to all of the pieces on this disc arranged for such (there are some a capella selections as well), but the recording captures them far too vividly, spreading them fully around the surround speakers to such a degree that they drown out the choir and the singer, as though the latter were placed in separate rooms. At first I wondered if the quartet had been recorded at another time and mixed in with the singers later, but that made little sense. Suffice it to say that the effect it far too blowsy and completely destroys the experience in general—this is a big engineering blunder.

As far as the music goes, we have what amounts to a rather anachronistic program in terms of arrangements, something that is more at home about 60 years ago than today, though this in itself is not a bad thing as the arrangements are very well done. The Gents sing with fairly good English diction even though some of the numbers, made so memorable by performances of Fred Astaire—perhaps Gershwin’s most adept interpreter—suffer in comparison. There is a lightness and song-flurry that came so naturally to him that is lacking here, which it probably would be from any choir. But overall they do an outstanding job and are fully convincing, as does Johannette Zomer, surprising me quite a bit with her exceptional and idiomatic renderings.

The music, with the exception of “Fascinating Rhythm” from the 1924 production of Lady be Good and the same year’s Rhapsody in Blue, is taken from late Gershwin, two movies: A Damsel in Distress and Shall we Dance, and Porgy and Bess. The music is beyond reproach, as is all of Gershwin, though the decision to record the Rhapsody for an arrangement for saxophone quartet must be questioned—because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. [I guess you’re not a fan of sax quartets as I am...Ed.]  The Haags definitely pull it off, though I doubt I’ll want to be hearing it again. The Porgy selections, maybe because of the already choral-intensive nature of the music itself, come off the best and most convincing to my ears.

A release like this is always going to have detractors as well as promoters, but honestly it could have been more enjoyable if someone in the control room was paying more attention.

—Steven Ritter




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