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Nuria Rial, 8 Cellists of the Sinfonieorchester Basel

The two-time ECHO Klassik winner Nuria Rial is not only one of the most important sopranos of early music, but has thrilled with her velvet and expressive voice also with compositions of the 20th and 21st century. For this recording she has teamed up with the 8 cellists of the Sinfonieorchester Basel.

At the center: Astor Piazzolla’s famous cycle “Las Cuatro Estaciones Portenas” (The Four Seasons of the Port, meaning that of Buenos Aires), but also one of Heitor Villa-Lobos' Bach homages “Bachianas Brasileiras”, where the recorded elegiac No. 5 belongs to the most popular compositions of the Brazilian. From the Catalan home of Nuria Rial there is the legendary folk song “El Cant dels ocells” (The song of the birds). Legendary, as cellist Pablo Casals always ended his concerts with this song in exile (after the Spanish Civil War in 1936).

Another highlight is the world premiere recording of “Vocal Ice”, an impressive work by Spanish composer Bernat Vivancos.


Heitor Villa-Lobos dreamt up the imaginative combination of eight cellos and soprano soloist. His famous composition for such an ensemble is Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 – part vocalise and part lament – based on the music of his native Brazil and J.S. Bach, and recently recorded on Vocalise by heavenly Catalan soprano Nuria Rial and the Cello Octet of the Sinfonieorchester Basel. Vocalise features the Villa-Lobos and more, including the premiere recording of Catalan composer Bernat Vivancos’s beautiful (but oddly titled) ‘Vocal Ice’. It seems a strange premise for an album – a whole program of music for cello octet and soprano – but, considering the rich and effulgent sound of the ensemble, I’m not complaining.

Until reviewing Vocalise and Wayfaring I was unaware of Pablo Casal’s plaintive arrangement of El Cant dels Ocells (‘The Song of the Birds’), and I’m glad now to have heard both versions. The text suggests something optimistic – ‘Death is conquered, my life now begins!’ – although Casal’s music tells a darker story. Rial’s high, pure voice is apt to sing the bittersweet words, and the collectively melancholic sound of the cellos, much like the combination of guitar and cello, provides heartrending contrast. Vocalise is at once tormenting and joyful.

Alexandra Mathew is a classical music specialist at Readings Carlton.

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