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Recordings

Angel Dances
30 May 2007

Angel Dances

Curmudgeons and aesthetes may have to fight their gag reflex to enjoy some luscious music-making on the latest disc, Angel Dances, from that hot studio band, The Twelve Berlin Philharmonic Cellists.

Angel Dances

Die 12 Cellisten der Berliner Philharmoniker

EMI 0094635703023 [CD]

$13.99  Click to buy

As the brief booklet bio somewhat oddly exclaims, “They are a unique ensemble worldwide.” On the cover, the word “angel” gets prominent placement in large font, and in a blare of white light a woman with wings looks thoughtfully away from the super-sized cello body behind her. What that has to do with musical contents, your reviewer can’t say.

Angels as subject are tangential at best to much of the repertoire on the disc, and dance hardly comes to mind when listening to Debussy’s “Sunken cathedral” or J. S. Bach’s “Jesus bleibet meine freunde.” In fact the title best reflects only the first three tracks, Piazzolla arrangements by José Carli of “La Muerte del Ángel,” “Milonga del Ángel,” and “La resurrección del Ángel.” Piazzolla’s angel is hardly the conventional haloed-cherub, but the 12 cellists do dig into the tango rhythms. After the Piazzolla, the CD becomes mostly an ethereal, if not morose, affair, and the fuzzy aura of new-ageism envelops some of the tracks (Volker Schlott’s “A solis ortus cardine,” with soloist Jocelyn B. Smith, and the lengthy “Miniaturr (einer Seelenreise)” by Markus Stockhausen).

The oddest track, “Let us praise him,” comes from Schlott and Smith. Here Ms. Smith resorts to a bland Gospel-inflected style, rather like Whitney Houston beseeching the Lord. Three tracks later the cellists take on Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres,” a typically spare, moody piece. Some listeners, in other words, will appreciate the disc’s eclectic mix; others will be as dismayed by some tracks as delighted by others. The 12 cellists’ musicianship is never in doubt, especially when heard in a Wilhelm Kaiser-Lindemann arrangement of a selection from Mendelssohn’s Elijah. The purity and honestly spiritual effect in that selection goes a long way toward excusing the excesses elsewhere.

Only the sales figures can determine if the 12 cellists will receive the absolution of the market place for any perceived sins against taste committed with Angel Dances.

Chris Mullins

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