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Music Review: Various Artists – Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album

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Those of you who want a truly wonderful soundtrack of excellent music performed by talented artists at the top of their game to accompany your reading of titillating two-bit erotica, you’ve got it. As the album notes proudly proclaim, Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album “aims to provide the perfect accompaniment to the Fifty Shades reading experience, setting a mysterious and alluring atmosphere with just the slightest hint of danger.” What more can one ask? Get out your stereo if you’re old enough, your iPod if not, and grab one of your well-thumbed “Shadey” tomes, and have at it. You might well enjoy the music so much you would be tempted to listen to it on its own. You might enjoy it so much that you might want to hear some more, and if that happens, well it would be hard to complain about how that kind of result was achieved. I guess sometimes the ends justify the means.

Of course, this is not really about erotic trilogy, a series that has caused much critical hand-wringing and popular success. It is about an attempt to piggyback on that success. In some sense, it is unnecessary to review the music. It is a selection of some of the greatest pieces of classical music from the 16th century down through the modern period. It is music that had stood and is standing the test of time.

If it has anything, it has variety.

It includes beloved old chestnuts like Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” and Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” There are lesser known gems like Tallis’ “Spem in Alium” and the “Bailero” from Cantaloube’s Chants d’auvergne. It features vocal music and instrumentals. Choral works and pieces for the vocal soloist turn up as well. It has orchestral works and compositions for the individual instrument. It offers music from countries around the globe. This is a veritable cornucopia of ripe musical fruit.

Moreover it would be hard to complain about the performances. Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields and Ricardo Muti, Maria Tipo and Cecile Ousset, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the Tallis Scholars are all world class musicians. Their performances are excellent and tasteful. That they are willing to let their work be associated with James’ work may upset others, but If they have no problem with having their work used in this way, who am I to cry shame?

All told there are 15 tracks on the album, all selected by E.L.James, who says, “I am thrilled that the classical pieces that inspired me while I wrote the Fifty Shades Trilogy are being brought together in one collection for all lovers of the books.” She has said in interviews that she listens to classical music when she writes about erotic activity and she listens when she engages in it. Presumably these are the pieces that get the best results, both in terms of prose and passion. These are pieces that have made their way into the fiber of her novels.

For fans of her novels, that will be more than enough. For those yet to crack the spine, the album may well add some romance to spice up its sadomasochism. For those who have no intention of reading any of the grey shades, the album will make for an hour or so of fine music. It is impossible to look at the track listing—Bach’s Aria from The Goldberg Variations, the Prelude from Verdi’s La Traviata, a Chopin nocturne and a prelude, Vaughn Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” just to name a few others—and not find gorgeous music you can’t help but enjoy hearing. And if you must read while you listen, you can always try Anna Karenina.

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About Jack Goodstein