Ensemble Contraste


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The Broadway song can stand up to a wide variety of treatments, and indeed both the vocal and instrumental sounds audiences generally expect have evolved considerably since the days of Jerome Kern; musical theater singing of the year 2010 would sound odd indeed to an audience of 1920. That said, this release by France's Ensemble Contraste probably puts more pressure on the essence of the musical than any other recording to date. The bizarreness gets started with the opening rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and continues until the last bar, with only minor relief. It comes from dual sources. One is prosaic: most of the singers, most prominently mezzo soprano Karine Deshayes, make no effort to pronounce English idiomatically, exemplifying a carefree tendency that extends to the track list (The Wizzard of Oz?). Beyond this, however, are the arrangements by Ensemble Contraste, many of which recast the songs of Broadway almost as Impressionist chamber pieces. Neither of these complaints is valid throughout. Some of the singers, notably Sandrine Piau, deliver reasonable renditions in the way of the many operatic singers who have performed this music. There are satisfactory jazz treatments of a few songs. And some of the program draws on French-language material, in which the singing is at least not a distraction. Sooner or later, though, the bizarreness returns, and it culminates in Deshayes' rendition of Maria from West Side Story (track 11). Listen to see if you are among the subset of listeners who may be intrigued by this odd experiment.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 3:56
2 3:07
3 5:40
4 2:50
Porgy and Bess
5 3:09
6 5:08
7 3:37
8 3:12
9 3:38
10 2:11
11 4:26
12 2:07
13 3:17
14 2:52
Porgy and Bess
15 5:29
16 3:37
17 2:02
18 4:07
19 3:01 Spotify
blue highlight denotes track pick