Not the singer/songwriter's first foray into Shakespeare, Rufus Wainwright's Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets offers an ambitious mix of accompanied readings, opera, and chamber pop to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death (its release date falls a day early). Three of the included sonnets appeared on Wainwright's 2010 LP All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu but are rearranged and newly recorded here. Helena Bonham Carter, Carrie Fisher, Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine, and, most frequently, opera singer Anna Prohaska are among several celebrated guests on the 16-track set, which provides two interpretations of most of the poems. The album opens with a reading of "Sonnet 43" by Welsh actress and singer Siân Phillips over quietly percussive electronics, before approaching the same poem as a graceful, fully realized aria with Prohaska and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It's not until the third track, "Take All My Loves (Sonnet 40)," that we hear Wainwright himself sing, and it's an electro-symphonic, avant-garde pop song that also features an inserted recitation by English musician/producer Marius de Vries. In fact, those hoping to hear not only Wainwright's compositions but also his voice will have to make due with just three tunes and some supporting appearances. A highlight among his pop songs and of the album is "A Woman's Face (Reprise) (Sonnet 20)," a wistful ballad reworked from All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, in which Shakespeare expresses deep affection for another man. Elsewhere, droning guitar and rock drums are punctuated with strings on "Unperfect Actor (Sonnet 23)," which sees the musician joined by his sister Martha Wainwright, Fiora Cutler (aka Fiora), and actress Helena Bonham Carter, the latter in a spoken intro. Florence Welch takes the lead on the mellifluous, tropics-infused "When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men's Eyes (Sonnet 29)," and none other than William Shatner delivers a dramatic, highly edited performance of "Sonnet 129." In a Kurt Weill-esque cabaret entry, "Sonnet 66" is read and sung in German by Jürgen Holtz, Christopher Nell, and Wainwright, with electric guitar, piano, and strings accompaniment. While fans of either persuasion should note that the collection has as much strictly classical material as it does chamber pop, altogether the album presents a compelling, balanced mix of many manner of vocal performance. Arriving on the heels of a recording of his first opera, the French-language Prima Donna, Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets reaffirms that the songwriter/composer is an arranger at home in many styles, with the ability to make this kind of sprawling, genre-surfing project unfold with elegance.
© Marcy Donelson /TiVo