Let's face it--the line-up of stars on When Love Speaks
, a benefit album for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, is extraordinary. No fewer than 45 household names hack their way through a forest of Shakespeare sonnets--Kenneth Branagh, Juliet Stevenson, John Gielgud, Susannah York, Sian Phillips, Richard I-don't-believe-it Wilson and, well, 39 others. And this is both the strength and the weakness of the enterprise--it will sell like mad, then lie neglected on all too many shelves after a listening or two. Sure, there are plenty of delectable contributions, starting with Joseph Fiennes's startlingly whispered extract from The Tempest
(although, naming no names, not all readers rise to the challenge). But it's an embarrassment of riches, needing far more of a balance between readings and the music--eight short, specially composed (and stylistically wide-ranging) Shakespeare settings with the occasional bit of lute-strumming. Sure, the musical performers give their all, from Barbara Bonney's melting soprano in Michael Kamen's setting of "The Willow Song from Othello
(one of the better numbers) to the inimitable Ladysmith Black Mambazo and quavery-voiced Bryan Ferry. But there's too much head-counting here and not enough production. Best heard late night, darkened room, single malt to hand. --Andrew Green
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