Their animated approach will certainly lighten any day (Berio CD)


Stories: Harmonia Mundi HMU 807527:

Paul Hillier leads Theatre of Voices in an enthusiastic and dramatic performance of John Cage and Luciano Berio.

The conductor Paul Hillier’s latest recording with his vocal ensemble Theatre of Voices covers an eclectic programme of twentieth-century composers, the coherence of which he justifies through the centrality of John Cage’s influence. The pieces demand that the performers are not only vocalists but actors too, and it is in this respect which the Theatre of Voices excel. All of the performers fully engage with the dramatic personas of the texts, the colloquial accent in Sheldon Frank’s ‘As I was saying’ particularly effective in its humour. The performance of ‘A-Ronne’ by the Italian composer Luciano Berio is a strong start to the album, with the atmosphere created through the hushed mutterings particularly effective. The intimate feel of Cage’s ‘Story’ makes it a particular highlight, with its rhythmic precision and colourful word-painting really bringing it to life. Unfortunately, the rest of the disc slipped just below this high standard. The meditatory feel was not captured in Jackson Mac Low’s ‘Young Turtle Asymmetries’, and the musicality sometimes came secondary to the elevation of the dramatic personas.

However, the recording itself is less than ideal. The balance of the voices sometimes needs adjustment and the degree of resonance sometimes exceeds the amount required in order to emphasise the theatrical nature of the pieces. Yet the interaction of the performers within the sonic space cannot be faulted. There is a real sense of dialogue, and each individual captures a sense of wonderment in the exploration of the percussive capacities of vowel sounds and how they combine to form words.

Although it is far from easy listening, Hillier and the Theatre of Voices attack the pieces with infectious energy. Their animated approach will appeal to many and will certainly lighten any day.

Katy Wright