I think of the 12 Cellists as the Rolls Royce of same-instrument chamber aggregations in the world. All of their albums have raised the crossover concept to a stratospheric level, compared to some of the drek out there. Their playing is so perfectly intonated, in tune, and deftly phrased that it makes me want to go back and amend some of the compliments I recently gave another all-cello ensemble in these pages.
This time around the unique cellists have delved into the religious/spiritual bag that is currently prevalent (and also resulting in some drek). But they have done it with such taste and élan that the collection is a real winner. Though the dozen tracks contrast greatly with one another, the general purpose here is to “seduce the listener away to a distant world,” and that it does. The opener is a wonderful arrangement of the three-movement tango suite by Astor Piazzolla: Death of the Angel, Milonga of the Angel & Resurrection of the Angel. Vocalist Jocelyn Smith is heard on two tracks: a gospel selection and a contemporary version of a Martin Luther chorale melody. There is a selection from a Bach cantata, Verdi’s Ave Maria, and the best-known work by religious/meditational composer Arvo Pärt. The latter is his very own original version of his lovely archaic-sounding Fratres, which was created especially for the 12 Cellists.
The disc’s big hit for my ears was their superb transcription of Debussy’s The Sunken Cathedral. This echt-example of impressionism in music has been transcribed a number of different ways – including a very effective recording by electronic maven Tomita – but the glorious sound of the massed cellos seems to communicate the monumentality of the ancient cathedral arising from and then sinking back into the lake better than anything I’ve heard. A highly-recommended CD which should have very wide appeal to all musical tastes!
– John Sunier