Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart, an ensemble of mixed voices, specializes in new music, primarily works that use extended vocal techniques, but on this two-CD set also includes four motets by Josquin Desprez. The juxtaposition of early and new music would have been more fruitful and intriguing if the Renaissance works had been dispersed among the newer pieces, so it's hard to understand the decision to bunch them together on the first disc, offering little opportunity to consider the relationship between old and new. Perhaps the density of Josquin's contrapuntal writing makes his motets more difficult to bring to life, but the performances are heavy and ponderous when compared to the fleet and mercurial execution of the new music.
The new repertoire spans a variety of styles and uses the voices unconventionally, requiring Sprechstimme, microtonal sonorities, cluster glissandi, clicks, sputters, shrieks, and other non-bel canto vocalizations. The most successful pieces are those in which the effects are meaningfully employed in the service of clear musical and dramatic ends. Xenakis' Nuits, written in memory of unknown political prisoners, is a harrowing and highly dramatic evocation of the darkness into which the dissidents have disappeared. His A Hélène, a setting of Euripides for men's voices, stands out from the other works for the narrative clarity of its relentlessly homophonic declamation. In Nova/Minraud, for soprano and recorded tape, Olga Neuwirth creates a nightmarish soundscape using fragments from the work of William S. Burroughs. The closest thing to serenity on the album is depicted in Younghi Pagh-Paan's harmonically static HIN-NUN, for six women's voices, but its effect is actually more eerie than serene. Scelsi's Tre canti sacri, for eight mixed voices, whose long-sustained tones shift sinuously through a spectrum of tight harmonies, is perhaps the most attractive work in the collection. Col Legno's sound quality is clean, bright, and deep.