German men's vocal sextet Die Singphoniker was established in the early '80s and has made it its mission to take on a promiscuous variety of music, including plainsong, the repertoires of music for men's voices of the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Modern eras, as well as folk song and American popular song. In this album the group brings its commitment to diversity to new level. Taking Pierre de la Rue's Requiem, Missa pro fidelibus defunctis (ca. 1506) as its central work, the group intersperses its seven movements with a wild variety of other pieces, including the spiritual Deep River; a movement from Weill's Berliner Requiem; German folk songs; contemporary pieces by Einojuhani Rautavaara, Knut Nystedt, and Hans Schanderl; and arrangements of songs by Sting and Eric Clapton. Even as a recital, this assortment would make for a pretty eccentric mix, but the group takes the further provocative step of describing the album as a unified work: Fragile: A Requiem for Male Voices. Much space in the program notes is given over to debating the pros and cons of the propriety of making such a designation, but the prevailing argument is that the human voice provides the organic unifying element that does in fact allow the diverse pieces to be heard as parts of a larger whole. Listeners will certainly have a variety of opinions on the success of the enterprise, but for those who can approach it as the performers intended it, as a tool for contemplation rather than the subject of analytical dissection, the album has an intuitively meaningful flow.
Die Singphoniker may not have quite the level of polish or the velvety blend of other a cappella groups like Chanticleer or the King's Singers, but it is still an excellent ensemble that delivers nuanced and spirited performances. The singing in the demanding de la Rue Requiem is especially beautiful and the group provides the rhythmic punchiness that really brings it to life. The five songs in English may be problematic for English speakers because of the accents of the singers, particularly noticeable in the Sting and Clapton and in Deep River. Oehms' sound is terrific: clean, detailed, warm, and very present.