April 2004

Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà - Infernal Violins
Music by Offenbach, Saint-Saëns, Tartini, Falla, The Rolling Stones, Ennio Morricone.
Analekta 8723
Released: 2003

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Picture Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

Angèle Dubeau is an acclaimed Canadian violinist who has the distinction of being one of the few classical artists to have been granted "Gold" status for selling 50,000 albums in one year. In 1997, she founded La Pietà, a 12-woman ensemble made up of 11 strings and piano. The small orchestra has toured Canada to national acclaim and the delight of audience members, making four recordings along the way.

This latest one pays tribute to all the old legends that have the Devil playing a fiddle. Though in times past this business was taken more seriously, from the baroque period on the devil in music has been portrayed as a party boy, a rogue that will just play till we dance ourselves to death or he cons us out of our souls. And if Daniel Webster happens to be around, we’re safe from that!

The music on this disc consists almost entirely of arrangements done for this particular ensemble, darned good ones, too. The transcriptions show off the small orchestra in its best light, which is very bright. The expected tunes are here, all re-examined and made fresh and new. These include a beguiling Danse Macabre, a shimmering Mephisto Waltz, an impish Tartini "Devil’s Trill," as well as a pulsing and dynamic version of the "Ritual Fire Dance" from El Amor Brujo. Other pieces, not quiet as familiar but sure to be hummed while the disc is being put back in its jewel box, include Dompierre’s Les Beautés du diable and an arrangement with a nod to rock‘n’roll called Paint It Black/Sympathy for the Devil.

The players are aces, to a woman. They play with such enthusiasm and wild abandon you would think they'd leave a note or two lying on the floor. Wrong. No clean up job needed for these pros and virtuosos. This ensemble has everything. Lyricism? Got it. Excitement? Got it. Style? Got it. Elan? Got it. Enthusiasm? Got it. It’s the hottest chamber ensemble around.

The engineering is hot, too. The recording is close up, and you can almost smell the rosin, yet there is a sheen and gloss to this sound that is, well, sexy. For once, you can hear what the excitement of playing a Strad is all about. I refer to Ms Dubeau’s 1733 instrument, named "Des Rosiers."

I would recommend you hock your Saturday-night movie tickets to buy just the CD. But there’s more. There is a second disc here: a video DVD. And watching the women play is just as great as listening to them. They actually look like they enjoy playing this music, and that joy is catching. Try not to smile. I dare you. The video producer certainly caught it, for the video shots move in rhythm to the music and create their own entertainment. There’s some post-production material, too. Flames, titles - - you know, devilish stuff, and it works. Everything works on this two-disc set, even the mono track on the DVD. Yeah, I was surprised, but it is mono, and it is very good mono, the kind that got high fidelity started back in the early '50s. The DVD includes a few numbers from Infernal Violins, but also some cuts from earlier CDs and a couple of music videos as well, all prefaced by a charming introduction from Dubeau.

There is nothing on this disc not to like, so why are you sitting there reading instead of ordering it?