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Luc Tooten (cello)
St閜hane De May (piano)
Flemish Radio Choir/Bo Holten
rec. 2010, Jesuits Church, Heverlee, Belgium

Writing this a few days after Halloween, I need no reminding that there is a widespread fascination for the ghoulish and the ghostly. So it is probably safe to assume that there is a market for the morbid and the morose in music, and it seems that this CD is aimed at satisfying that market. Certainly, this is a programme which wallows in musical misery, rooting out the sad and sorrowful and providing nothing to lighten the gloom. I’m a self-confessed Requiem-ophile, and my shelves groan under the weight of more Requiems than is probably good for me, but even I find such unrelenting musical grief too despairing a pill to swallow. The only thing about this CD which provides a bit of sunshine are the incongruous photographs of (and by) Bo Holten out at sea in his yacht on a sunny day.

Compounding the musical grief, the engineers have gone overboard in emphasising the sombre mood. Rachmaninov’s Vocalise is, perhaps, the saddest piece of music in the entire repertory. That, though, is not enough for the Danacord guys; they have added such a hefty dose of resonance that it sounds as if the Flemish Radio Choir have been locked in some echoing catacomb from which the microphones have been excluded and can only catch wafts of echoing sound as they emerge through the subterranean mists of acoustic gloom. As if straining to be heard, the sopranos have developed an almost keening quality, and the net result is a performance which, far from releasing the inherent loveliness of Rachmaninov’s creation, sounds forced and unreal. Strangely, we hear the piece again, this time in an arrangement for cello and piano, but while this has dispensed with the hideous artificial resonance of the choral version, I am not sure it achieves any better musical results as it plods dolefully along.

Cellist Luc Tooten certainly has his work cut out here. In addition to the Rachmaninov and various other pieces, he plays solo passages (apparently composed by Holten) linking some of the items. Some of these are decidedly disconcerting – such as that which precedes a shapeless reading of Howells’s Take Him, Earth, For Cherishing (where we experience in English the vague diction which seems such a feature of the Flemish Radio Choir) – and none really makes musical sense, despite the touching lyricism of Tooten’s playing. That lyricism is well displayed in the Faur?蒷間ie, but I find St閜hane De May’s plodding piano turns the whole thing into some kind of dreary funeral march.

Some of the more successful performances are of rather uninspiring music. Andre Previn’s Vocalise, which features a soprano solo from Hilde Venken, seems to have little to offer, while Bo Holten’s own Nordisk Suite and R鰉ische Elegie 1, are more musically rewarding and well suited to the choir. But the only work which really comes across effectively for me is the Jardin des Olives by Vic Nees. It is well sung with relatively discernible French words and a pleasing baritone soloist in the person of Philippe Souvagie. It is the only (so far as I can see) commercial recording of the work, but even so, I do not think it worth sitting through all the rest of this musical gloom and despondency just for this one piece.

Marc Rochester

Previous review: John France

Bo HOLTEN (b. 1948) Nordisk Suite, Part 1 (1989) [4:08]
Eva Goudie-Falckenbach (soprano), Flemish Radio Choir/Bo Holten
Andr?PREVIN (1929-2019) Vocalise for soprano, cello and piano (1995) [4:57]
Hilde Venken (soprano), Luc Tooten (cello), St閜hane De May (piano)
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Vocalise, op. 34 no.14 (1912) [5:39]
Sarah Van Mol (soprano), Flemish Radio Choir/Bo Holten
Gabriel FAUR?/strong> (1845-1924) 蒷間ie op. 24 (1878) [7:11]
Luc Tooten (cello), St閜hane De May (piano)
Bo HOLTEN Nordisk Suite, Part 2 (1989) [4:16]
Flemish Radio Choir/Bo Holten
Vic NEES (1936-2013) Jardin des Olives (from Trois Complaintes) (2005) [4:16]
Philippe Souvagie (baritone), Flemish Radio Choir/Bo Holten
Leoš JAN?#268;EK (1854-1928) Elegie na smrt dcery Olgy (Elegy on the Death of Daughter Olga) (1903) [6:44]
Ivan Goossens (tenor), Flemish Radio Choir/Bo Holten
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Take him, earth, for cherishing (1964) [8:09]
Flemish Radio Choir/Bo Holten
Sergei RACHMANINOV Vocalise, op. 34 no. 14 (1912) [5:59]
Luc Tooten (cello), St閜hane De May (piano)
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Go, Song of Mine, op. 57 (1909) [5:20]
Flemish Radio Choir/Bo Holten
Bo HOLTEN R鰉ische Elegie (2011) [7:03]
Luc Tooten (cello), Flemish Radio Choir/Bo Holten

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