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March 3, 2008

40 Years of Perfect Harmony

London Evening Standard (UK):

It's an ancient conundrum: if the constituent parts of an object have been replaced one by one, is it still the same object? For the King's Singers, the answer is definitely "Yes".

This year marks their 40th anniversary and while none of the current members was in at the beginning, it is recognisably the same ensemble with the same characteristics: immaculate harmony, minutely synchronised delivery, identikit blazers and ties. This opening concert of its birthday celebrations could easily have been a greatest hits package.

Nothing so frivolous. Instead we got an austere, even ascetic survey of 16th-century Iberian polyphony, the first half sacred, the second mostly secular.

It may not have been obviously crowd-pleasing but it made a perfect showcase for the sextet's architecturally layered sound, keening falsetto and droning bass providing top and bottom, tenor and baritone floating discreetly in between.

Before the interval, renaissance bassoon provided another texture, low and intestinal one minute, pleading and mournful the next. Merging perfectly with the voices, it floated like pungent incense.

The centrepiece was a massive, 20-minute setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah by Alonso Lobo, a vocal challenge despatched with almost nonchalant precision. They are too refined ever to sing loud, of course, but they have an imposing weight of sound that it seems impossible for just six voices to achieve.

After the interval, things got as near raucous as they ever do with this group. The good humour was infectious, yet even in bawdy songs about well-hung sailors there was no hint of vulgarity.

At times it might be nice to hear some grit and grime in the glistening pearl of their harmonies but then they would no longer be the King's Singers.

Posted by acapnews at March 3, 2008 9:10 PM


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