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CD: Crotchet


The King’s Singers – Greatest Hits
See end of the review for track details .
King's Singers, various associate artists.
rec. various locations 1974-1991.
EMI CLASSICS 5145872 [77:39 + 79:41]
Experience Classicsonline

The King's Singers celebrate their 40th anniversary this year (2008) and EMI have duly issued this bargain-priced double CD in celebration.  While the King’s Singers cut their first record elsewhere – it now resides in the Chandos catalogue – EMI was their recording home from the early 1970s until they moved to RCA in the 1990s.  The red label has a huge back catalogue of King's Singers recordings and by rights this Greatest Hits compilation should have been superb.
As it is, this double CD earns a qualified recommendation.  It does demonstrate the King’s Singers’ remarkable versatility, impeccable ensemble and consistency over time.  However, not all of the tracks are well chosen.
The main miscalculations are to be found on disc one.  First, there is the material from the King’s Singers ill-conceived 1989 album, America.  The arrangements of Three Times a Lady and Bridge Over Troubled Water, wrapping the six voices in an unnecessary orchestral gauze, sound cloyingly sincere.  The orchestral accompaniment for Sounds of Silence is better, but its ironic touches seem forced.  The gentle wit of the King’s Singers is replaced here by something colder and more self-conscious.  There are better examples of the King’s Singers’ art deployed in American pop: Billy Joel’s And so it Goes and James Taylor’s That Lonesome Road would have been much better choices, to say nothing of the group’s inspired take on Barry Manilow’s Copacabana.
Secondly, I take issue with the inclusion of a bracket of Christmas carols on a greatest hits album.  Yes, the King’s Singers have made a number of successful Christmas albums, including at least three for EMI that I am aware of and more recently an absolute winner for Signum.  However, I doubt many listeners would be keen to sample Christmas tracks in the middle of an otherwise secular program – acknowledging the mysticism inherent in The Rhythm of Life.  Arguably the carol arrangements selected do not even represent the best of the King’s Singers’ Christmas recordings for EMI – their swaggering Deck the Hall from their album of the same title springs to mind.  Again, the better course would have been to leave these tracks out, and perhaps replace them with popular King’s Singers party-pieces like Short People or I’m a Train.
Gripes aside, there is a lot of wonderful stuff here.  The selections from the King’s Singers’ tribute album to the Comedian Harmonists are well chosen, and the four Beatles arrangements that open disc one are superb.  These are taken from the group's 1988 album The Beatles Connection, which is well worth buying in its own right.  I wonder at the omission of Blackbird, though: surely the King’s Singers delicate arrangement of that simple song is as much a signature piece for the group as the gorgeous You Are the New Day, which is included here.
On the whole, the tracks on the second disc have been compiled thoughtfully to show the King’s Singers’ skill in ‘classical’ repertoire.  Renaissance madrigals are bread and butter to this ensemble and the examples included here, in particular those from the King’s Singers’ Madrigal History Tour, album are simply superb.  Incidentally, that Madrigal History Tour album is currently available for next to nothing on EMI’s Encore imprint and is a must-buy.  The Johann Strauss II arrangements that end the disc are a lot of fun, and there are some beauty spots along the way, including an unexpected Le baylere from Canteloube.  I’m not so sure about the inclusion of the selections from The Carnival of the Animals, though: a little too twee for me, they also sit awkwardly between the Canteloube and Fauré tracks that flank them.
The booklet is well presented, with a short note about the King's Singers and a few paragraphs written by the group’s current incarnation.  It is odd, though, that the only photographs feature the current members of the group when only the top and tail – David Hurley (1st counter tenor) and Stephen Connelly (bass) – can actually be heard on this double album.  It makes sense to have a picture of the current line up, given that they are the King's Singers in this, the group's 40th anniversary year.  It would have been nice to include a photo or two of the group’s other iterations, though, given their heavy representation on this enjoyable but flawed compilation.
Tim Perry
Disc 1
John LENNON (1940-1980) & Paul McCARTNEY (b. 1942)
Penny Lane (1967) [2:32]
Help! (1965) [2:28]
Yesterday (1965) [2:32]
Eleanor Rigby (1966) [3:40]
Paul SIMON (b. 1941)
Bridge Over Troubled Water (1969) [4:25]
The Sound of Silence (1964) [5:22]
John DAVID (b. 1946)
You are the New Day (1978) [2:29]
Lionel RITCHIE (b. 1949)
Three Times a Lady (1978) [3:16]
Cy COLEMAN (1929-2004) & Dorothy FIELDS (1905-1974)
The Rhythm of Life (1966) [2:14]
George HARRISON (1943-2001)
Here Comes the Sun (1969) [3:60]
Barbara Allen [3:31]
Early One Morning [2:21]
She Moved Through the Fair [3:14]
Bugeilo'r Gwenith Gwyn [2:28]
Londonderry Air [3:40]
O My Love is Like a Red Red Rose [3:21]
Ding Dong! Merrily on High [2:16]
Katherine K DAVIS (1892-1980)/Henry ONORATI(?)/Harry SIMEONE (1911-2005)
The Little Drummer Boy [2:39]
Franz Xaver GRUBER (1787-1863)
Stille Nacht (1818) [2:52]
Cole PORTER (1891-1964)
Night and Day from The Gay Divorcée [3:52]
Harold ARLEN (1905-1986)/Ted KOEHLER (1894-1973)
Stormy Weather (1933) [3:49]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) 
Overture to The Barber of Seville (1816) [3:24]
Rudolf FRIML (1884-1972)/Herbert STOTHART (1885-1945)
The Donkey Serenade [3:23]
Howard BLAKE (b.1938)
Walking In The Air (1982) [1:44]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)/Stephen SONDHEIM (b.1930)
Something's Coming from West Side Story (1957) [2:50]
Disc 2
Adrian WILLAERT (c.1490-1562)
O dolce vita mia (c.1545) [4:31]
Vecchie letrose (c.1545) [2:90]
John FARMER (C16th)
A little pretty bonny lass (c.1599) [1:12]
Thomas MORLEY (1557-1602)
Now is the month of maying (1595)[1:49]
John DOWLAND (1562-1626)
Fine knacks for ladies (1600) [2:26]
Orlando de LASSUS (1532-1594)
Resonet in laudibus (1569) [3:14]
Christus resurgens ex mortuis (C16th) [2:21]
Bon jour mon coeur (1564) [1:16]
La nuit froide et sombre (1576) 2:40
Joseph CANTELOUBE (1879-1957)
Songs of the Auvergne: Le baylere (1923-1930) [2:42]
Camille SAINT SAËNS (1835-1921)
Carnival of the Animals: Aquarium (1886) [2:20]
Carnival of the Animals: Animals with long ears (1886) [1:20]
Carnival of the Animals: The cuckoo (1886) [3:43]
Carnival of the Animals: The swan (1886) [4:35]
Gabriel FAURE (1845-1924)
Pavane Op. 50 (1887) [6:10]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Rest (1902) [3:00]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Deep in my soul (1907) [3:57]
Scarborough Fair [4:16]
Annie Laurie [3:12]
Greensleeves [3:21]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka (1867) [2:53]
G'schichten aus dem Wienerwald (1868) [6:33]
An der schönen blauen Donau (1867) [9:52]


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