12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic

Angel Dances

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The 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic are one of continental Europe's most successful crossover ensembles and one of Germany's few exemplars of what has been called post-classical music (it's a poor term, probably derived from the equally poor "postmodern") -- music that draws on materials from the classical tradition but incorporates popular and world influences in a synthesis freely shaped by individual performers. Here the cellists draw on an international fascination with angels that shows no sign of abating, and the program offers a suitably diverse set of perspectives on angelic themes. The Angel trilogy of Argentine tango-fusion composer Astor Piazzolla -- La muerte del Ángel, Milonga del Ángel, and La resurreción del Ángel -- must have seemed an irresistible choice, not only because of the theme but also because the cello can take on such a strong rhythmic element. The Piazzolla pieces don't work so well in this context; the tango rhythms are vigorous, but the upper voices, those originally intoned by Piazzolla's piercing bandoneón, are somewhat submerged. After this, however, there are several distinct highlights. Two come with the assistance of the unique African-American-German vocalist Jocelyn B. Smith (the cover might have been a good deal less cheesy if she had been pictured rather than a generic angel). The combination of massed cellos African-American gospel singing in Volker Schlott's Let Us Praise Him (inspired, believe it or not, by The Blues Brothers) is something new under the sun. The program includes an Arvo Pärt work, Fratres, originally written for the 12 Cellists, who have every bit of the organic sound and lush sheen that is advertised. They deliver huge sweep of sonic development in Debussy's La cathédrale engloutie, expertly building the layers of that sunken cathedral and encountering none of the problems apparent in the Piazzolla when its upper spires begin to sparkle. The gorgeous arrangements of Verdi's Ave Maria and of two passages from Mendelssohn's Elijah toward the end could find a place on any mix of meditative music. For some, the primary attraction of the album will be the concluding work, Miniatur (einer Seelenreise) (Miniature of a Soul's Journey) by Markus Stockhausen, son of Karlheinz -- it might be called surprisingly accessible considering its grandparentage. The album as a whole is quite a journey in itself and is likely to satisfy fans of this unusual group. As usual with the 12 Cellists, this album is beautifully recorded, with impressive dynamic range -- if you're listening to it while driving, keep your eyes on the road during the frequent volume knob adjustments.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 03:43 Amazon
2 05:56 Amazon
3 07:42 Amazon
4 03:05 Amazon
5 05:24 Amazon
6 06:05 Amazon
7 09:46 Amazon
8 05:16 Amazon
9 05:36 Amazon
Cantata No. 147, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben," BWV 147 (BC A174)
10 03:27 Amazon
Elijah (Elias), oratorio, Op. 70
11 05:04 Amazon
12 12:50 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick