Swingle Singers: Sounds of Spain. Philips 981 160-1 (2004)

Swingle Singers: Sounds of Spain (Concerto d’Aranjuez). Philips 981 160-1 (2004), barcode 602498116012






compiled (with “The Joy of Singing“, Philips 981 160-2) in Philips 981 160-0 (2004), barcode 602498116005



Compiled (with 10 other digipak-CDs of the Paris Swingles) in Swingle Singers (11 CDs) Philips 982 632-5 (2005), barcode 602498263259



Originally published in 1967

More beautiful arrangements from the Swingle Singers, but the “old pal” factor is missing here and the TT is frustratingly short
Originally posted on Amazon.com, 4 April 2011

I’ve reviewed many CDs from the Swingle Singers lately and I’ve contended that the pleasure and fun their arrangements and realizations provide derive from a number of factors: first, there’s the pleasure of any transcription, enabling you to hear to old, familiar warhorses in a new timbral guise: it’s like your wife showing up in a new sexy lingerie, it adds new thrills to the old routine. Then, there is the special fascination of the Swingles’ specific arrangements for vocal octet. I’ve submitted that they elevate to the status of high art what we all do, in a very rudimentary manner and without even thinking about it, walking on the street, washing the dishes, ironing or vacuuming – and, notoriously, showering: humming our favorite tunes. But the Swingles are to our shower humming what a Picasso is to your kid’s drawings. And I’ve also opined that by so doing, they return instrumental music to its very origin and essence: the human voice – as, presumably, all those great composers, Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Handel, Beethoven, Chopin and all the others first hummed these tunes for themselves before committing them to the music sheet.

This 1967 album was released in France as Philips 844 718 BY, in Holland with the same label number and another cover, and in the UK with the same cover as in Holland but a different label number, BL 7838. In the US it came out in 1968 as Philips PHS 600-621, with a different title, “Spanish Masters”.  It is reissued here under its French title and cover. It is as enjoyable as any by the Swingle Singers, with the usual mixture of the dazzlingly virtuosic (try track 5 & 6, Albeniz’ Granada and Sevilla from the Suite espagnole/Spanish suite, or the Soler sonata on track 9) and the sensuously caressing (track 2 for instance, the Adagio from Rodrigo’s Ajanjuez Concerto, or track 7 “Romance espagnole”/Spanish romance, given on the back cover as “traditional”, but it is in fact the famous theme played on guitar by Narcisso Yepes in the soundtrack of René Clément’s film “Jeux Interdits/Forbidden Games”; track 9, Granados’ Andaluza, is also very beautiful, with its sensuous soprano voice flowering above the dynamic, scatting accompaniment of the rest); Granados’ “Rondalla Aragonesa, Spanish Dance No. 6, track 3, is a mixture of both. And they all come with these gorgeously sunny and sensuous Spanish-derived tunes. For the record, it is tenor Ward Swingle himself who is the soloist in track 3, Granados’ Rondalla Aragonesa (he enters at 0:50).

Still, the album does entail its frustrations. First, the “old pal” factor so prevalent in the Swingle’s Bach, Vivaldi or Mozart albums is here almost entirely absent: except, maybe, the Ajanjuez Concerto, and Albeniz Granada and Sevilla if you are familiar with Spanish piano music, these are not among classical music’s most popular hits, so you don’t have the fun and fascination I mentioned above of hearing the old familiar hit in a new timbral guise. These could be original compositions for the voice and I couldn’t tell the difference (Albeniz’ Tango sure sounds like one). Not so much your wife in a new lingerie as an occasional pick up at Lila Pastia’s tavern.

But, given the beauty of the compositions and arrangements, this is minuscule concern, in comparison with the CD’s minuscule total timing: 30 minutes! The original LPs of the Paris-based Swingle group from the 1960s and early 1970s were already quite short even for LPs, always around that 30-minute mark, but for a CD!??? In fact, I simply don’t get the point of these “original jacket collection” type of reissues. Is Philips or Universal or whoeverholds or held the copyrights to these recordings trying to get the glands of nostalgia of an older generation of listeners to salivate? Short thinking I should think: as we go there will be less and less of that older generation to buy these CDs anyway, and I don’t buy a CD for nostalgia, I buy it for music. And this is so good, I want more of it. In fact, what I find frustrating with the Swingle Singers, is that in their 50 years of existence (personnel constantly changing of course), they have not found the time to record Albeniz’ complete Iberia, Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat and Amor-Brujo, Soler’s Fandango, Scarlatti’s 555 sonatas, Mozart’s and Beethoven’s complete symphonies and concertos and sonatas, Bach’s Goldberg Variations… well, everything. As for Philips/Universal, shame on them for not doing here what Phonogram Germany did in the early days of the CD when they first stared to reissue on CD the albums of the Paris-based Swingles: pairing two on one CD. They did it with their 1963 and 1968 Bach albums on Jazz Sebastian Bach, and with their 1964 “Going Baroque” and the 1965 “Swinging Mozart / Anyone for Mozart?” on Anyone For Mozart, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi? (except, who knows why, for one track, that could have easily fit). This is really a serious case of trying to overmilk the cows – us. So try and find it priced accordingly.

You can also buy it in the form of a twofer, with a cardboard casing grouping the CD and the 1972 album “The Joy of Singing” (which includes Vivaldi’s “Spring” from the “Four Seasons”), but that still makes two short-LP-timed CDs, not one fully-filled CD. For more details on “Joy of Singing” go to my review of the single album (link in heading).

It takes me longer to write these reviews than to listen to the recording: not a good ratio. The music gets thumbs up, the short timing gets thumbs down, in my case thumbs up prevailed.

Comments are welcome