Shall I Compare Thee? (CD review)

Choral Songs on Shakespeare Texts. Chicago a cappella. Cedille CDR 900000 085.

If the success of a CD depends on the number of times one throws it into the player, then the 2005 Cedille release Shall I Compare? must be a record of the year, at least for me. This disc features one-of-a-kind songs based on Shakespearean texts, good a cappella singing, and an equally fine recording. The results I find hard to resist.

The Chicago a cappella 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 cappella choir, such as the all-male Chanticleer group that I like so much. But I sometimes find Chanticleer's releases a bit tedious and their recordings often more resonant than I care for. Not so here. The music on the Shall I Compare Thee? album is continuously fascinating, and the recording (by Cedille Records engineer Bill Maylone, whose work I have complimented before) could hardly sound better.

Chicago a cappella
All of the songs have their roots in the words of Shakespeare, either from the plays or sonnets, and they are unique in that contemporary composers wrote all of the music. Of the nine composers, eight of them were still alive (and I assume well and thriving) at the time of the disc's release. In 2002 Chicago a cappella 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 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-première 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; a fairly silly "Witches' Blues" from Macbeth; and several versions of "Shall I Compare Thee." 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.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa