The Swingle Singers: 1812. Swing CD 4 (1989), no barcode
Cassette edition, Swing 4:
Reissue Virgin Classics CDC 5 45134 2 (1995), barcode 724354513428
Recorded live 14 December 1988 at Ordway Theatre, St. Paul, Minnesota (tracks 1-5, 14-15), and May 1989 at Falconer 1 Studios, London (tracks 6-13)
The Swingle Singers 1988-1989, mixing live and studio, classical and pop
Originally posted on Amazon.com, 3 May 2011
Part of this disc was recorded live in December 1988 (tracks 1 to 5 and the two final tracks), and the rest in the studio, in London, in May of the next year. It was self-produced and first released on the Swingle Singers’ own label, on cassette, Swing 4, and CD, Swing CD 4. The Swingle Singers began recording for Virgin in 1991 (A Cappella Amadeus – A Mozart Celebration), and I assume that Virgin subsequently acquired the copyright of the 1812 recording. They released it in 1995. I have both CD editions: they sound exactly the same, no audible remastering or remixing was involved (unlike with the Swingle Singers’ Virgin Bach album).
The recital is a mixture of the live and studio, then (the live ones come with applause, and even short presentations of the pieces to be sung before the Henry VIII piece and the 1812 Overture), but also of classical music hits and various pop hits: songs of the Beatles (Day Tripper, Fool on the Hill, Lady Madonna, Blackbird mixed with I Will), Gershwin’s Summertime, Sondheim’s “Another Hundred People” (from his musical “Company”), Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn (from the TV series created by Blake Edwards), and… typically the Swingles’ discs aren’t very informative on the pieces played, and not being a specialist of popular music it took me a little bit of research to establish that “Someone’s Rocking my Dreamboat” was the 1941 hit by Leon René and Emerson Scott made famous by the Ink Spots. Can’t say that the Swingles entirely recapture the unique, ironic crooning charm of the original. Likewise, their Summertime shouldn’t be heard as an “imitation” of the original: it’s an adaptation, and the character is widely different, much more sophisticated. The Sondheim has great verve, even if, there again, the voices are much more sophisticated and have less character than the Broadway voices associated to the original musical, like Pamela Myers (Company – A Musical Comedy (1970 Original Broadway Cast)) or Judy Kaye (A Stephen Sondheim Evening (1983 Concert Cast)) – links will open new tabs to CD’s entry on Amazon.com. Their take on Mancini’s Peter Gunn is exciting and fun.
The Four Beatles songs were later rerecorded by the Swingle Singers (entirely different lineup) in their Beatles album from 1999 (first published on their own label, Swing CD15, and reissued in 2002 by Primarily A Cappella, Ticket to Ride: A Beatles Tribute. It’s the marvel of the Swingles that the individual singers may change, the sound remains the same. I can’t say that one version is musically preferable to the other, there’s marginally more bite in the earlier recording, but less sonic sophistication, and the factor of program coherence can militate in favor of the Beatles album.
Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” and King Henry VIII’s “Pastime with Good Company” were already on “Live in NY 1982” (Live in New York, again an entirely different lineup of singers). The balance is slightly better in the newer version of Henry VIII and the timbres of the (vocal) crumhorn can be enjoyed to the full. In “Clair de Lune” the sopranos are a little shaky at the begining (but have fine purity at the end) but the men’s voices have more silk than in 1982. The William Tell and 1812 Overtures are brilliant (another live version of the latter can be seen on YouTube). The one mis-judgement I find is the inclusion of Debussy’s Trois Chansons. Here the Swingles transcribe nothing, they sing the chansons as written, for a cappella chorus (and not with a perfect French accent either), so they are really nothing special. What is special about them is not when they tackle the “a cappella” repertoire, but when they “a cappellize” the instrumental repertoire, and, to a lesser extent, songs.
TT 50:24, which I find a bit frustrating. With such entertaining stuff, you definitely want more.