Chamberfest Review: The Swingle Singers
Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival 2013
The Swingle Singers
Dominion-Chalmers Church, Thursday at 7 p.m.
The Swingle Singers, the little a cappella chamber choir that sometimes expresses itself in long series of monosyllables, has been around for about half a century. One of its early achievements was to demonstrate once and for all that the music of J. S. Bach can survive just about any setting. In fact, their clever arrangements work to one extent or another with all kinds of music, as they demonstrated when they opened this year’s Chamberfest Thursday evening.
First the good news: The arrangements really are clever and the singers have the precision of ensemble to do them justice. Thursday’s show was nicely staged, one might almost say choreographed. And the introductions were well done and humorous. On the other hand, there were intonation issues now and then and, truth to tell, few of the individual voices are anything special.
Their repertoire included, among other things, music by Donizetti, Debussy and Bach. There were also pieces by Billie Holiday, John Lennon, Alanis Morissette and other popular singers. The first number to make a big impression, though, was a traditional Turkish song, Gemiler Giressune, a duet for despairing young lovers. Another lovely item was the Mumford and Sons song After the Storm and Billie Holiday’s Don’t Explain was another gem.
Soprano Sara Brimer did quite a number on Donizetti’s Diva Aria, accompanied by her colleagues in their “orchestral” mode. As a representation of Donizetti’s original, it would best be described as a slaughter. Happily, they ensemble switched over to a boisterous, jazzed-up coda.
The singers didn’t stick too closely to the printed program, but the essentials were all there, and included some of the music for which the original group was known in the 60s, Among them were a nice arrangement of Debussy’s Clair de lune and another Bach’s Badaniere.
Although the show was enjoyable and drew a near-capacity audience, this is supposed to be a chamber music festival, and I think many listeners won’t be entirely happy until the hard-core stuff starts on Friday.
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