Die 12 Cellisten der Berliner Philharmoniker – 1978-2010 (8 CDs – album list follows) – Warner Classics

Die 12 Cellisten der Berliner Philharmoniker – 1978-2010 (8 CDs – album list follows) – Warner Classics 825646207497 ****:

What a tremendous collection of delightful sounds, and at a low price point too!  The 12 cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic (who are really 13 – guess they’re ready in case someone can’t make a gig – they have in fact three principals) got their start in 1972 in a German radio production and made their live debut in Tokyo. They quickly took the world by storm, and now have an international reputation and many albums out. Their arrangements are just terrific, and they venture widely in repertory—from the classics, new music, jazz, tango, avant-garde, pop, folk, you name it. They have quite a few guest artists appear with them as well.

The 12 cellists mix serious stuff with humor and their work seems to appeal to all ages of audiences everywhere. Many contemporary composers have created works especially for the 12 cellists, some of which are included on these eight CDs. They include Francaix, Xenakis, Blacher, Rihm, Saariaho and Dun. The same CD (“Vol. 1”) includes a very prickly work by Xenakis, his Windungen, right next to “Yesterday” and the “St. Louis Blues.”  That illustrates the extremely wide repertory of the cellists. Each individual in the cello choir contributes a vital part to the musical whole, no matter what sort of music they are playing.

“Fleur de Paris” is one of the oldest of their albums in this 8 CD collection. It sells for $20 on Amazon. These are not just the expected corny French tunes, though it does have “Clair de lune” and “La Vie en rose,” but it also boasts tunes by Trenet, Faure, Michel Legrand, and ends with a fine instrumental arrangement of the eight songs of Francis Poulenc’s cycle Figure humaine.

“Angel Dances” mixes Piazzolla, Verdi, Bach, Debussy, two songs by Volker Schlott and concludes with one of the most gorgeous pieces I’ve heard in months: Miniatur, a 13-minute gem by trumpet and Flugelhornist and composer Markus Stockhausen, son of the famed German avant-gardist.

“As Time Goes By” is the third CD reissue, coming from 2004. Its 16 tracks are all movie music, with such composers as Jerry Goldsmith, Ennion Morricone, Nino Rota, John Williams, Michel Legrand and Bernard Hermann. The leader of the vintage pop music band with a German angle, Max Raabe, narrates a selection from “The Jungle Book.”

“‘Round Midnight” is a mix of classic Broadway songs, film themes, spirituals and jazz. Ellington, Bernstein, Gershwin and Chick Corea are all represented, and the closing tune by Thelonious Monk is the reason for the album title. An unusual inclusion is America 2002 – In Memoriam by the late trombonist Bob Brookmeyer – a 10-minute jazz-flavored work.

CD 5 is “South American Getaway,” and includes both the Bachianas Brazileiras Numbers 1 and 5, by Villa-Lobos. Three pieces by Piazzolla are on the CD, which closes out with the title tune of the album, by Burt Bacharach. Three of the tracks feature soprano soloist Juliane Banse.

Some of the most enjoyable instrumental Beatles covers are on the sixth CD in the collection, “Beatles in Classics.” There are a dozen of them and although this session was recorded back in 1982 they sound perfectly up to date today.

Discs 7 and 8 are volumes 2 and 1 of the 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic. No. 7 is the most serious of the two, though it concludes with Bernstein’s “Maria” from West Side Story. In addition to Bach and couple composers I was unfamiliar with, this CD opens with a repeat of the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, which the cellists really seem to like.

The first volume, which is actually the eighth CD in the set, repeats the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 at its start, followed by two rather atonal selections, but then concludes with “Gospel Train,” a repeat of the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” and the “St. Louis Blues.” So there are a few duplicates, but no matter. This one was taped way back in 1977.

Here are some earlier reviews of the 12 Cellists we’ve done. First is a 2012 video, then “South American Getaway” and their French CD.

—John Sunier

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