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French Choral Music

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About this title: Fans of modern a cappella choral music may enjoy exploring this disc of twentieth century French madrigals and motets, but the casual listener may find it somewhat unsettling. Because Ed Spanjaard and the Netherlands Chamber Choir are fine musicians with sensitivity and technical acumen, the performances are generally smooth, idiomatic, and precise. The ensemble is at its best in placid fare, such as Claude Debussy's delightful Trois chanson de Charles d'Orléans, Maurice Ravel's amorous Trois chansons, Jean Françaix's tender Trois Poëmes de Paul Valéry, and Olivier Messiaen's mystical O sacrum convivium; their tone is well-blended and rich. However, some experimentation intrudes on the album's serene mood, particularly in André Jolivet's puzzling Epithalame, where the singers imitate bell sounds, slide dramatically in portamento, fluttertongue, moan, and chatter in brisk repartee. Jean-Louis Florentz's Asmarâ, a virtuosic setting of an Ethiopian psalm, is almost as challenging and startling, not for...

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