The Wonders of the World - Echo du Danube
Accent ACC 24185
"The Wonders of the World, An English Masque"
Miriam Allan (soprano)
Echo du Danube
Rob Wyn Jones (narrator)
Review by John Broggio - February 4, 2009
The Wonders of the World has the subtitle "An English Masque" and a masque it most certainly is, presented in a very entertaining manner.
The choice of Rob Wyn Jones as narrator will strike some as a little strange given the historical period that this is supposed to emulate - few with even as slight a Welsh accent as Jones would have been granted a position to entertain the monarch in those days. Despite this cultural oddity, Jones delivers the narration (including excerpts from some plays of Shakespeare) with sensitivity. Those used to the old-school diction and delivery of those like Gielgud will be disappointed by the more restrained and less overtly dramatic renditions that are delivered by Jones but the style fits the mood of the music chosen well.
For the most part the Australian soprano Miriam Allan sings well, with a pure clean tone. There is one notable exception to this and it is so out of place that one can only assume that Allan suffered an illness towards the end of the sessions and there was no opportunity to re-record The Bachelor (from John Maynard's The Wonder); in this song her vibrato becomes strangely wide and ugly.
The shining glory of the disc is without doubt the ensemble Echo du Danube (and in particular Johanna Seitz the driving force behind the project who also supplies excellent notes). Their contributions include wonderful dances that are stately, energetic and seductive by turns. Also wonderful is their sensitive and tender accompaniment of the songs. Perhaps most importantly of all, the ensemble is positioned in a wide and varying array of composition to bring the most clarity and drama out of each piece - not that many of these are masterpieces.
The Masque itself has 11 sections, split into a total of 37 tracks (many of which last less than 1 minute) and is based around The Wonder by John Maynard:
1) Prologue - starts in chaos and gets more energetic to build up to the introduction of the narrator
2) What Women Want - a nicely self-effacing set, mainly sedate in tempo
3) Entry Dance - a solitary dance that has alternating fast and slow sections
4) At the Market: Nutmegs and Ginger - this has controversial text by the standards of today with anti-Semitic descriptions of a trader. The most interesting and exciting moment here is the evocation of the street scene following an accelerating dance by Dowland (track 11).
5) Main Dance - mainly instrumental as one might expect!
6) Virginity or Leading Apes in Hell - Maynard clearly believed that not being married was not ideal from the rather sombre songs here!
7) Revels - here the recording team lead us outdoors (by using birdsong) and then a pair of dances
8) Live and Let Die - the songs here comment on the problems faced by widows at this time and their common recourse to joining a religious order to escape poverty and a lament for the procession to the gallows by Dowland (track 31)
9) Final Dance - self-explanatory!
10) Banquet - a drinking song, some fairly innocuous dancing music (and the occasional pouring of beer) to accompany the food
11) Epilogue - a calming end to the proceedings
As indicated, the sound engineers have had fun here, adding birdsong and other effects to create the atmosphere (very sparingly) intended to be evoked by the music; it rarely overlays any music and if it does so it is only for a matter of seconds. They also spread out Echo du Danube around the listener (the narrator and singer are always in front) with some processing effects thrown for the trip to the gallows - tremendous fun in multi-channel.
Very enjoyable even if the odd moment prevents it from being perfect.
Copyright © 2009 John Broggio and HRAudio.net