Lovely Recordings by Craig Errey (Part Deux): Chaural Delights

Hey, did you like what I did there? What a clever word play if I do say so myself!!! ;-)

In this second selection, I feel I can only start with a confession… And here goes… Whew!! It's tougher than I thought. OK. This time… I love watching Pitch Perfect.

Wow!! I can't believe I said that out loud!! And yes, I'm proud of it. Why, I hear you ask? I love a capella music. I think the human voice is one of the incredible instruments. Now, I reckon you're probably not surprised by this at all, but I have an amazing singing voice. So good, that my wife has suggested I use it while signing for the deaf.

And that reminds me of when I was a kid, maybe around eight or nine and I got to sing in a school concert. We were singing the song I alluded to in my first lovely recordings, which I'm sure you all immediately recognised and got all misty eyed over. The clue I gave you is that it was about leaving some town. For those of you living under a rock in the late 60s, early 70s, it was Durham Town by Roger Whittaker. Ahhh, still takes me back. Blink. Blink. I think I got something in my eye.

Anyway, I got to the chorus with the multiple lines of 'I've got to leave old Durham town' and I hit the third 'leeeeeeeaaaaave' with such gusto that quite a few audience members visibly turned towards me with a look of awe shock. The future hadn't been invented then, but they were clearly expressing a look of 'WTF!?'

I think I then hit my peak some 20 years later when I was at a party with a great friend of mine, the kind who goes on to be best man. We were both imbibing and inhaling and somehow we ended up in the bathtub. We'd pushed aside the ice and beer making a small mountain between us and then each draped an end of the curtain around us as we sang at the top of our voices. For the life of me I can't remember what we were singing. But I'm sure it was something by Queen. You know, it's coming back to me. It could even have been Bohemian Rhapsody. Yep, that seems about right. It may well have been inspired by recently watching Wayne's World. I think the true indication of how good we were I was, is how much beer everyone had left for us. That, and how much everyone had just left.

So, clearly with a capella, it seems I'm totally living vicariously through these very talented people. And as for Pitch Perfect, I only ever watch it with my nine year old daughter. Honest. Trust me, I'm a consultant!! It is surely not about Anna Kendrick in any way, shape or form…

Well, enough of all that, let's get to the music. In this selection, I've taken a bit of a licence and much of what's here is medieval to renaissance polyphony, and only one a capella as we normally think of it, so I hope you'll forgive me. I figure that going back to the roots is where we should start. The rest is where the voice is the clearly dominant instrument and the people are clearly brilliant at what they do.

Let's commence with the album that started it all for me.

Flying Pickets: Lost Boys (Virgin Records, 1987)
This was the first a capella album I bought. I love it, to this day. A friend of mine at Uni introduced it to me. "The Tears of a Clown", "Psycho Killer" and "Monica Engineer" are great. And that's the first and last classic a cappella I'll cover here. After all, we've got Pitch Perfect for that. ;-) Hey, did you know PP 3 is coming out at the end of the year!! Oooooh, can't wait!! Go Bellas!!

I would've put something in by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, but, as great as they are, we all know them.

Available from Qobuz

Sheila Chandra Weaving My Ancestors' (Real World Records, 1992)
This is another brilliant album from Peter Gabriel's Real World label. I'm not sure how many I have, but it would at least be around 60 or 70.

The tracks are quite varied, but I really like "Speaking In Tongues I" and "II". My wife says on hearing them: 'What!! More of that stupid clicky music'. When you hear it, you'll know why. All her albums are great. Some others I recommend are Abonecronedrone, This Sentence Is True and The Zen Kiss.

Available from Tidal

The Harmonic Choir and David Hykes: Hearing Solar Winds (Signature Radio France, 2003)
I first heard a track from this album on the Baraka sound track, one of my favourite movies in the early nineties. This album features Tibetan throat singing, but not the kind you've probably heard in the movie Kundun and elsewhere. It shows just how incredible the voice is.

In case you aren't familiar with this style of singing, it involves creating a fundamental drone and then by shaping your mouth with your throat, tongue, cheeks, and lips you create a simultaneous harmonic overtone. In the end, there are four possibilities: constant pitch drone with constant overtone; constant drone with varying overtone; varying drone with constant overtone, and varying drone and varying overtone. Very, very, very clever. Did I say how clever it is?

Available from Qobuz

Anonymous 4, Ensemble Organum, Theatre of Voices: La Naissance de la Polyphonie (Harmonia Mundi, 2012)
This album is a great introduction to early polyphony. It's volume five of a 20 album set by Harmonia Mundi in their Century Series, traversing nearly a thousand years. I recommend the first eight albums up to the renaissance to cover much of style I cover in this Lovely Recordings selection.

Available from Amazon (CD)

Gothic Voices with Emma Kirkby: A Feather on the Breath of God (Hyperion Records, 1985)
Not much to say about this one, except stunning. Turn anything off in your house except the stereo and let it rip. This was the first album I bought featuring medieval period music.

Available from Hyperion

Sequentia: Voice of the Blood (deutsche harmonia mundi, 2002)
And ditto for this one.

Available from Qobuz

Ayub Ogada: En Mana Kuoyo (Real World Records, 1993)
This is one of the boundary albums in that there're instruments, but Ayub Ogada's voice is amazing. It's another awesome album from PG's Real World label. His voice reminds me of Roy Orbison at times when he produces such clear high notes, without it sounding like falsetto. On this one, Kothbiro is the standout. And if you want a brilliant compilation, then go for Bliss, also on Real World, and also featuring Kothbiro.

Available from Tidal

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: Mustt Mustt (Real World Records, 1990)
Again, a blend, but the Qawwali singing style is fantastic. You might be interested to know that Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was featured heavily on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack.

In another selection, I'll do one on all the fusion albums I have where interesting styles have been mixed to great effect.

Available from Tidal

Arvo Pärt: Da Pacem (Harmonia Mundi, 2006)
No choral collection would be complete without something by Arvo Part. I chose Da Pacem but could easily have chosen anything else by him.

Available from HDtracks

Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble: Officium (ECM New Series, 1994)
In the polyphony and renaissance music I've chosen, it has tended to be all male or all female singers, with very few mixed groups. In this album the Hilliard Ensemble, an all male quartet, is accompanied by Jan Garbarek on saxophone. It perfectly complements the men. Although the ensemble has done lots on its own, this is an outstanding fusion of styles.

The thing about the saxophone is that because of the frequency range it produces, it's one of the instruments closest to the human voice. I think it's the key reasons why people like it so much and why it pairs so effortlessly on this album.

If you want something purer by the Ensemble, pick anything, they're all fantastic. I saw them live in St James Church in Sydney maybe 10 years ago. Awesome. I usually don't go for live music, preferring the studio produced albums like I mentioned last time. But there are always some exceptions. Off topic, for live music, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and The Tallis Scholars come to mind. As for albums, Alchemy and Live Bullet are also the exceptions for me.

Available from Qobuz

Various Artists: Trance Planet Volume 1 (Triloka Records, 2000)
Here's a great compilation album. Almost as good as Bliss, but a bit more raw that makes it different. The stand outs here are track 1 "Nwahulwana", 6 "Petition to Ram", and 14 "Gracias a la Vida". Again, a few instruments, but the voices are dominant and are clearly fantastic.

Amazon (CD)

Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of St. Maurice & St. Maur, Clervaux: Salve Regina (Philips, 1960)
In my last Lovely Recordings, I mentioned getting the right Gregorian chant, instead of the dodgy ones I mistakenly bought singing various Simon and Garfunkel and Bon Jovi numbers. This is it.

Available from Qobuz

Eric Whitacre: Complete a Capella Works 1991-2001 (Arsis Records, 2003)
Another modern composer. I only came across him a year or two ago with the release of Light and Gold, and his crowd sourced virtual choir.

Available from Amazon (CD)

Morten Lauridsen: Lux Aeterna (Hyperion, 2005)
A lovely mix of male and female voices, but also backed by orchestra. Another modern composer and one of those random finds when surfing the 'net for new music. The Hyperion label, like Harmonia Mundi is excellent.

Available from Hyperion

Acanthus: Sacred Songs of Medieval Italy (Cantus, 1990)
Something medieval, from Italy.

Amazon (CD)

Vox Naturalis: Medieval Vocal Music (Cantus)
A nice mix of medieval singing.

Available from Amazon (4x CD)

De Labyrintho: Orlando Lasso: Prophetiae Sibyllarum (Stradivarius, 2007)
Another nice blend of male and female. And a nice album cover!!

Available from Qobuz

The Sixteen and Harry Christophers: Monteverdi - Mass for 4 voices, Mass 'In Illo Tempore' (Hyperion UK, 1989)
Monteverdi, for me, represents peak renaissance polyphony. He also marked the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Baroque period.

Available from Hyperion

Trio Mediaeval: Soir, dit-elle (ECM New Series, 2004)
To wrap up, I thought I'd pick a few groups that perform a wide range of different renaissance composers, such as Palestrina, Victoria, Brumel, Byrd, Lassus, Josquin, and, of course, Tallis.

This first is Trio Medieaval. Lovely.

Available from Qobuz

Stile Antico: Song of Songs (harmonia mundi, 2009)
And here's another.

Available from Qobuz

Tallis Sholars: The Tallis Scholars sing Thomas Tallis (Gimell, 2004)
And you can't go wrong with the Tallis Scholars and this album features the incredible "Spem In Alium" as the title track. Their website has truckloads of other composers.

Available from Gimell

You'll see that it's again a fairly diverse list of albums, crossing all sorts of styles, but all featuring the voice. I think it's a reaction to the super high intensity tripe my parents listened to on the radio when I was growing up in Melbourne, Australia. In particular, it was a radio station called 3AK. The music wasn't even good enough for lifts and could only be characterised as this: Music for excavating fatbergs. That insipid 'Recipe' song comes to mind.

In compiling this list, I don't know how much devotional music I have, but it struck me just now that it's quite ironic that I don't have a religious bone in my body. A scan through iTunes shows probably 3-400 albums…

And so, I love the diversity. In the car I have a 160GB iPod with a bit of everything. Just last week, we were driving to a beachside town some half hour north of Coffs Harbour for our regular Christmas holidays, roughly a 6 hour drive. Being the driver I get to choose the music, much to my wife's displeasure. During one particular track, she looks at me with a sneer that only Aunt Petunia could muster for magic folk. She says quite nasally: 'what aaaaarrrrre you listening to?'.

I had that moment when you're asked 'does my bum look big in this?' and came up with the best answer I could:

'The next track'.
['…And I shake it off, I shake it off…'].
Eyes forward.
[Oh, shoot me now, but…]
Crisis averted.
So smooth.
Until next time, mes amis.

About Craig
Craig is now wasting too much time thinking about compilations for Lovely Recordings. The next one will be on fusion where different styles of music are combined to create something interesting, hopefully bordering on heresy.

See Craig's other Lovely Recordings

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markbrauer's picture

Craig, you really ought to try the album "Grieg: Part Songs for Male Voices" by Die Singphoniker. Available from Qobuz.

audioruud's picture

40 years old?
The Singers Unlimited - The Complete a Capella Sessions (Tidal)

v1m's picture

A nice list, Craig, well-presented, and half the titles I must check out soon. Despite trying I never warmed to the Garbarek/Hilliard collab. I do agree it's compelling. Garbarek's icy tone gilds the voices as well as any sax ever will. I'll put it on again when I want an air of cloistered anxiety, haha! For another of Manfred Eicher's great experiments in era-hopping there is the Dowland Project, where improv artfully extends formal structures.