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Voces8 paints a musical portrait of home in 'Enchanted Isle'

Voces8 Courtesy of the artist
4min 59sec : New Classical Tracks: Voces8
28min 28sec : New Classical Tracks: Voces8 (extended)

Enchanted Isle: Voces8 (Decca)

Barnaby Smith is the artistic director, conductor, and a countertenor for the British vocal ensemble Voces8. On their latest recording, Enchanted Isle, we're introduced to two new members, baritone Christopher Moore, and a new mezzo-soprano contralto, Katie Jeffries-Harris.

"I actually think that change is a really great thing in a group like ours because one of the difficulties of it is that it's the same eight singers all the time, which has so many benefits, but also it can get a little bit insular, and actually having a little bit of fresh blood every now and again can really liven things up."

Barnaby, let's talk about the new recording, Enchanted Isle. There is definitely an atmosphere that's being created here. Could you describe what you're hoping we'll experience as we're listening to this recording?

"When I listen to music, I hear colors. What we've tried to do with this album is we want people to hear pictures and those pictures specifically are based around vistas of our home in the U.K. So, the idea really is that all of this music paints a landscape portrait of our home, our enchanted isle, back in the U.K."

The opening piece was written by the British composer Rebecca Dale. You worked with her on your last recording, Winter. Tell me about this arrangement of this opening piece, and I would love it if you would pronounce it for me as well.

'Enchanted Isle' Voces8

"I'd love to be able to pronounce it. I think it's 'SO-ay,' a two syllable word. This particular song was found for an album that Rebecca released a few years ago called The Isle of St. Kilda. And she has re-imagined it in this instance for a cello playing the melody. Matthew Sharp, who has played on some of our previous records, is an incredible cellist, and one of the things I love about his playing is the humanity in it. He's actually an opera singer as well as a cellist, and the way he makes the instrument sing I think really fits."

There is another young female musician who joins you on this recording. She is a young Irish singer, only 21 years old if I calculated correctly.

"Sibéal is a Gaelic singer from Ireland. And a really nice thing once again is that the music was really written in the moment — we had the arrangers in the room — so a lot of it was significantly changed during the recording session. So, it was a very interesting process, asking her to take this copy of sheet music and try and fit her vocals over this written arrangement.

"And I think actually if you asked me what my favorite track was on the whole album, the track she sings on which is called Carrickfergus, I think would definitely be one of my top three choices. But if you'd asked me when she first walked in the room and started singing with us, I'd have said 'Oh, I'm not sure this can work.'"

I thought it was fun to find Radiohead on this recording, the Pyramid Song, which is a very haunting piece.

"I actually never really knew quite how big the following of Radiohead was. I mean, of course I was aware of them as a band, and I remember actually once when we were singing at a festival down in the south of France — we were staying in a hotel, and in the villa next door, Radiohead was staying there because they were headlining a big pop festival. So we we sort of have a very tenuous link.

"You know, I think if choral music is going to continue to blossom as it has done in the last 10 or 20 years, then pushing the boundaries of the repertoire is a very, very important thing to do. That track I really feel is something new and different and has been accepted very well since the album has been released."

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.


Voces8: Enchanted Isle (Amazon)