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November 11, 2004

King's Singers are regal and refreshing

Pioneer Press:

A concert by the King's Singers is always something of a bait-and-switch operation, but in a good way. No sooner has the six-man a cappella ensemble from England seduced you with the loveliest, most faithful renditions of Elizabethan madrigals and Renaissance polyphony you may ever hear than they're playfully sending up the style by delivering 1960s pop tunes with a 16th century flavor.

Such was the case Tuesday night when the group made a stop at Minneapolis' Ted Mann Concert Hall as part of the University of Minnesota School of Music's choral showcase, "InterPlay." After the English ensemble presented its credentials as one of the world's great male choruses, the second half of the concert was full of fizzy pop flavored with vibrantly colored harmonies. The result was a show that was not only spiritually rewarding and musically educational but a font of fun, as well.

Despite appearing the essence of stiff-lipped, dark-suited nobility, the six men always seemed itching to throw off the pompous airs and dish up a frothy dessert after the culturally nutritious portion of the program. But the main course proved quite tasty, as the troupe traded tunes from the oeuvres of two composers who lived three centuries apart: Italian Renaissance madrigal writer Carlo Gesualdo and Germany's Max Reger, whose early 20th century choral works bear the air of the ancient.

The Gesualdo pieces proved ideal for displaying the strengths the King's Singers have at each end of the register. Countertenors David Hurley and Robin Tyson soared high above the bass of Stephen Connolly, which was always powerful but never overpowering. And the Reger pieces, particularly the soothing "Nachtlied," proved the perfect departure from Gesualdo's tortured tales of death and betrayal.

But then it was time for dessert, and the concert's second half was delightfully sweet, as the group made a smooth samba of the Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," jazzed things up with Hoagy Carmichael and the Manhattan Transfer and returned to the classical realm (sort of) with their best imitation of an orchestra for Rossini's overture to "The Barber of Seville." But this admirable ensemble never lets its respect for the repertoire flag, even exposing a hidden beauty in an old Mindbenders ballad, "A Groovy Kind of Love," that featured a lovely lead by Paul Phoenix and, believe it or not, may have been the closest thing to perfection all evening.

Posted by acapnews at November 11, 2004 9:11 PM