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December 19, 2003

The London Times

They have have probably performed more carols over their 35-year history than there are Christmas lights twinkling on Oxford Street. Yet with inexhaustible energy the King’s Singers are off on another Christmas tour of the United States, leaving audiences at home with a new album simply entitled Christmas. Listen to it, or catch the King’s Singers in a Radio 3 Christmas Day broadcast of their recent concert at Grosvenor Chapel in Mayfair, and you will hear that they sound as fresh as ever.

This is a very different programme from their last Christmas album of a decade ago, which featured souped-up carols with an orchestra under Richard Hickox and no less a soprano than Kiri Te Kanawa. The new programme returns to their traditional sacred roots with some of the least tacky Christmas music you will encounter all season. Its sober tone will surprise those who think of the King’s Singers as sort of musical Pythons.

One of the group’s special achievements has been to maintain their act without going stale. True, some serious music lovers might sniff at the idea of a King’s Singers concert, but anyone who has actually heard the group recently will find their style hard to resist. It’s natural to assume that a group such as this might have lost their original identity, yet the uniquely smooth blend of just six male voices — in the slightly unusual configuration of two counter-tenors, one tenor, two baritones and bass — remains undiminished.

Some other British musical institutions of similar vintage must be looking on enviously. The Swinging Sixties were good years for classical music in London, with the emergence of groups who were to change the way the world thought about performance style. But that same change eventually saw many of them being left behind or superseded — while no one has yet managed to beat the King’s Singers at their own game.

One key to the group’s success has been their stability. Over the years, their hairstyles have altered more than their personnel, and the King’s Singers can boast of having had just 18 members over their long existence. All that has changed is the connection with King’s College, Cambridge. Though it happens now that one singer is a former Kingsman, the link was loosened when the first departure of a member — ten years to the day after the group’s founding — brought the realisation that they could not continue indefinitely as a group of college friends. Though they remain rather respectable fellows who just happen to be as good at singing silly songs as serious ones, the only background they tend to have in common now is the solid training they all received as cathedral choristers. More

Posted by acapnews at December 19, 2003 8:37 AM

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