Album review: I Fagiolini, Amuse-Bouche

By William Dart

You may have met British chamber choir I Fagioilini at the cinema, in John La Bouchardiere's The Full Monteverdi.

This imaginative 2007 movie presented six pairs of singers, in a restaurant, terminating their relationships through the words and music of Renaissance madrigals.

It may sound a little twee but, on screen, it worked remarkably well.

The group now celebrates its 30th birthday with another adventurous project: an album Amuse-Bouche, offering a tantalising selection of choral morsels from the 20th century French repertoire.

But does it live up to its tempting title?

Poulenc certainly provides stylish sustenance in his well-known quartet of wintertime motets, beautifully modulated by conductor Robert Hollingworth, who also liberates Marie's fleet-footed dance in the composer's Sept Chansons. Vocal duties are cleverly distributed from work to work, but does Poulenc's atmospheric Hotel, really come off, with a new singer for each of its short lines?

The two highlights are less familiar fare. Jean Francaix's bracingly satirical Ode a la Gastronomie is scrumptiously fey, pleading in waltz time that a chef be appointed to the French Institute.

The sonorous fervour of Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur's Le Cantique des Cantiques has Hollingworth drawing remarkable passion from these settings of the Song of Solomon, with glorious chains of Hallelujahs.

Pianist Anna Markland offers three Satie Gnossiennes between courses and takes the solo spotlight in the final track, playing the slow movement of Ravel's Piano Concerto while, around her, singers provide "orchestral" dressing. Though Hollingworth assures us that the vocalists' random lines of poetry "add a French tinge", this rather kitsch finale detracts somewhat from an otherwise fine release.

I Fagiolini, Amuse-Bouche (Decca)

Verdict: "British chamber choir go conceptual, tempting our taste buds with a Gallic banquet"

- Weekend magazine

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