This box comprises all nine releases of the SWR Vokalensemble series dedicated to musical portraits of different countries: America, Russia, Italy, France, Great Britain, Poland, Japan and the Baltic countries. With the chief conductor Marcus Creed bidding after many years farewell to one of the world's finest choir for modern a cappella music, the box also marks the end of this series. At the same time the box will be released just in time to mark the 20th anniversary of the label SWR CLASSIC. The booklet that accompanies each individual album contains the sung texts in the original language.
Excerpts of reviews from some of the previously released volumes included in this set:
America - Copland, Reich, Cage, Feldman, Bernstein, Barber:
This is an extremely well-thought-out collection, performed with skill and sensitivity by this German vocal ensemble, with friends. Anyone who cares about modern music needs a recording of The Rothko Chapel in his or her collection. Steve Reich’s Proverb is an astonishingly beautiful work that sets Wittgenstein’s dictum “How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life.” Reich’s polyphonic writing, while fundamentally lyrical, creates achingly beautiful dissonances, and the work also can be heard as a tribute to the organum writing of Pérotin. Especially for the Reich and the Feldman, this is recommended, but it adds up to more than the sum of its individual components.
Japan / Creed SWR Vocal Ensemble:
Each new album in this series has brought epiphanies. With the gentle tintinnabulations and soft-focus clusters opening Toshio Hosokawa’s Lotus Blossom, for example, we are transported to the pentagonal gardens and Shinto temples of familiar postcards both visual and musical. The abrupt climax is a Noh theatre device, while its placing at the golden-section point owes something to Western forms. The most original and ambitious work is also the most recent: Motet under the Rose by Jö Kondö (b1947), who sets a text by the symbolist poet Kambara Ariake with great subtlety. Takemitsu is an unavoidable presence, represented by a trio of saccharine songs—but then Japanese sweets make a virtue of cloying sweetness and eye-watering colours—and more valuably by the five-movement Wind Horse cycle (1962-66).
Finland / Creed, SWR Vocal Ensemble:
Maestro Creed’s SWR singers prove quickly that they aren’t accidental tourists in Finland any more than they were in Russia, Poland, Italy, and the USA in their previous choral stops. They sing Sibelius’s ‘Rakastava’ (The Lover) with commendable ethnic flair, and if there’s ever been a lovelier ‘Finlandia’ I haven’t heard it. Rautavaara’s settings of Lorca’s poetry are nightmarish to a fault, and there’s an attractive meeting of Scandinavian pop culture and American jazz in ‘Mieliteko’ by Jukka Linkola (b 1955).
– American Record Guide
There are some gems on this program, and the singing is burnished and ethereal. Verdi’s ‘Ave Maria’, ‘Laudi alla Vergine Maria’, and ‘Pater Noster’ are restrained yet lovely and moving. Scelsi’s ‘Yliam’ has some mystical ululating, and it sounds not a bit out of place between the Verdi pieces. Nono’s ‘Sara Dolce Tacere’ is slow-paced; disconnected syllables appear and then disappear like twinkling stars. Ildebrando Pizzetti’s Three Choral Compositions are more charming than their pedestrian name suggests, though they are a little pale next to Verdi’s wondrous harmonies.
I’ll mostly come back to this for the Verdi, but the program makes an excellent sampler of Italian choral music.
– American Record Guide