Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Polyphonic Virgil

This is a first for my blog: a CD review. I want to tell any of my readers who love poetry, Classics, or choral music that Rome's Golden Poets is a fantastic recording! Also: if anyone was put off by the king's ransom that Bolchazy-Carducci is asking for it, know that you can write directly to the Saint Louis Chamber Chorus and get it for $18. My copy got to me really fast.

The composers are Flemish, Italian, French, German, Brazilian, Hungarian, Czech, American. Dates of composition range from the 16th to the 20th century. But the Latin comes through loud and clear. The first track is a supercharged rendition of "Odi et Amo" (Catullus) by Jacob Handl (1550-1591), full of freshness and passion. Next there is a setting of "Lugete O Veneres Cupidinesque" by Gian-Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973), in which every nuance of this short, perfect poem about a girlfriend's dead sparrow is carefully brought out. There are three versions of the same passage from the Aeneid, all mournfully sacral in their treatment of Dido's grief and regret. There is a 1974 setting of a passage from the Fourth Eclogue, impressive with packed chords and intelligently placed discords. But the lion's share of the poetry on this CD belongs to Horace: "O fons Bandusiae," "Felices ter," "Nunc est bibendum," "Iam satis terris," and many others. Of all these, I thought that "Iam satis terris" was especially lovely. The American Randall Thompson does beautiful things with "O fons Bandusiae": you can just feel the burning sun at "atrox hora Caniculae," and you can positively splash around in the cascading music of "unde loquaces lymphae desiliunt tuae."

I should say that the last three tracks weren't to my taste: "Eheu fugaces" and "Tu ne quaesieris" were murky and strange, which was an especially sad fate for "Tu ne quaesieris," with its intoxicating rhythm. The last track is a Latin version of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," which I found extremely quaint. Otherwise, though, this is a great recording. The music has increased my appreciation of the poems. Taken as a whole, this music is a testament to the happiness hidden in those Latin classes you took in high school. It's a glimpse at the ancient, glowing heart of Latin letters, and the warmth that writers and musicians and their audiences have taken from it through the centuries. Five stars.


some guy on the street said...

Old MacDonald, eh?

Have you heard Donald Swann's `το κοκορακι'?

(Oh, hmm... a quick google finds many hits for that... what looks like exactly what he sings is reported in one vasiliki's wordpress... but I can't tell if he says anything about Swann. Maybe he was telling the truth!?)

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Anonymous said...

Hmm that's interessting but frankly i have a hard time visualizing it... I'm wondering what others have to say....