French a cappella ensemble Les jeunes solistes, led by Rachid Safir, specializes in little known contemporary choral music, and here presents two large multi-movement works that are both innovative and audience-friendly. Régis Campo (born 1968) wrote Les Blasons du corps féminin (roughly, The heraldry of the female body) for seven solo voices, between 2000 and 2004. The sixteenth century poems on the female form, by a variety of writers, are ribald to varying degrees, but for most of them, the composer deconstructs the text into its syllabic components so thoroughly that there's little discernible syntactic meaning. The texts primarily serve to provide him with syllables with which to riff, creating playful, onomatopoeic evocations of female sensuality. Campo's vocal writing uses complex techniques that require almost superhuman abilities to perform, but they have an easy, direct appeal; the listener may not have any idea what the performers are singing about, but they make it sound fun. Patrick Burgan's (born 1960) Le plaisir original (Mystère hystérique) uses a text written in 1883 by Edmond Haraucourt involving Adam and Eve that's very explicitly erotic, and also hilarious. (Anyone with delicate sensibilities will be reassured to know that there's no translation of the text in the accompanying booklet, and anyone disheartened by that fact should be able to locate a translation somewhere in a collection of Victorian erotica.) Burgan's piece begins with an exquisite impressionistic haze of shifting harmonies that evoke dawn in Eden. When the poem moves into the narrative of the first fumbling encounter between Adam and Eve, however, Burgan hurries roughshod over the text. The setting is musically interesting, but does little to capture the humor and sensuality of the situation.
The security and technical skill of Les Jeunes Solistes are awe-inspiring; listeners familiar with the difficulties of a cappella singing are likely to shake their heads and ask, "How do they DO that?" But they do it beautifully, with pure, lovely tone and great expressiveness. The CD should be of strong interest to fans of new vocal chamber music and choral music.