Amarcord

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The German male vocal sextet Amarcord sings a cappella harmony in a contemporary context. The group sings Renaissance polyphony, but it also takes what in the U.S. would be called the male glee club style to a high pitch of accuracy, and it has a knack for presenting light material in unusual ways, with some kind of unexpected concept or deep context in the booklet notes. This collection of little French pieces is a nice application of their talents, with a sort of free-associative booklet that brings out obscure but interesting connections among pieces performed. One work, Francis Poulenc's Chanson à boire (Drinking Song), was actually composed for the Harvard Glee Club, but never performed because it was delivered during Prohibition and the group feared the repercussions. The program includes music of the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth, and features both sacred (or, better, spiritual) and light secular material, but at its center, and perhaps its main attraction, is the set of five short songs called Dans le montagne by the almost unknown Breton-born naval officer/composer Jean Cras (1879-1932); these are simple but distinctive depictions of rural scenes, with a strong spiritual component. All texts, whether from music or commentary, are given in English, French, and German, and it's worth trying to follow the conversational, rather meandering way the music is presented (the pieces aren't discussed in the order in which they appear on the disc, but there is a logic to it all). The result is that the group makes a coherent and enjoyable program out of a group of fairly obscure, quirky songs in an unusual medium. Recommended for all fans of unaccompanied ensemble singing.

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