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June 15, 2009

King's Singers at Oxford


Senesino, Jenny Lind, Callas, Fischer-Dieskau… While audiences through the generations have been driven to heights of ecstatic frenzy by opera and vocal soloists, there is something about ensemble singing that has failed to produce such popular icons or to inspire anything like the same cult of hero-worship.

The very nature of the genre – its self-effacing focus on group blend rather than individual limelight– might perhaps account for this, yet it’s an argument that only a fool would try to sustain in the face of the global phenomenon that is The King's Singers. With a flawless blend and a balance of playful showmanship and sophisticated musicality that is, if anything, even more impressive live than on their many award-winning disks, the 6-piece ensemble are superstars to a man. (Or a counter-tenor, as the case may be…)

Returning to Oxford for the first time in over a decade, Thursday night's concert was a celebration of the Romance du Soir, with music exploring those perennially associated themes of love and the night. Wending its way from the madrigals of Weelkes to the part-songs of Elgar and Sullivan via a healthy dose of Saint-Saens (not to mention Jenks' 'Vegetable Compound' – but that's another story), the concert was a whistle-stop tour through the highlights of the group's latest CD.

The tone of proceedings was set in the very first bars of the opening pair of Saint-Saens part-songs – 'Calme des Nuits' and 'Romance du Soir.' The delicately fizzing piano of the opening chords, with their wonderfully interior delivery and immaculate tuning, commanded the audience immediately – an understated gesture that typifies all that is best about the music-making of this ensemble. Simplicity and direct communication is the watchword of all their eclectic repertoire, however complex or irreverently light-hearted. Somehow this approach succeeds in bridging the enormous stylistic and historical distances covered within each of their concert programs, and makes appropriate and intelligent sense of each style of music. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at June 15, 2009 9:27 PM


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