Royal Rhymes and Rounds
see end of review for track listing
The King’s Singers
rec. 4-6 July 2011, St Mary’s Church, Harrow. DDD
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD307 [65.50]
The music featured on this disc is broken down into four sections sovereign by sovereign, and finished off with a new commission by Paul Drayton, rounding up British history through its monarchs. In his note, Drayton hits the nail on its head when he says of his work “Don’t expect erudition”. Nevertheless, it is witty and amusing and a good, light-hearted conclusion to the disc.
Charting musical development in Britain through music relating to its monarchs is an interesting - if not original - concept, and the works included are well-chosen and programmed: the musical development evident between the compositions relating to the reign of Henry VIII and those of Elizabeth I is very striking.
I am not entirely convinced, however, by the performances, which seem to me to lack conviction - it is very rare indeed that I feel that the performers are hearing, understanding, feeling or communicating the words. The sound - for better or for worse - is very breathy, and strikes one from the very beginning as rather effeminate - especially at the piano end of the dynamic. The overall delivery is somewhat affected. This is especially noticeable in Ah, Robin, gentle Robin. There are also some technical problems, of varying degrees of seriousness: the solo opening It is to me a right great joy is very ropey and the rest of the song is not particularly secure. None of the singers are particularly good at melismas. The first counter-tenor struggles particularly badly. He also has difficulty producing a beautiful note at the top end of the range. Some of the notes in To her beneath whose steadfast star, and particularly the sustained f-natural - are rather painful. There are also some very evident intonation problems in Fair Oriana, beauty’s Queen. The ends of words get lost at faster tempos. You can hear this in “running”, in As Vesta was from Latmos hill descending, which all too obviously becomes “runnin’”. The enunciation - not great throughout - is particularly poor in Britten’s Choral Dances from Gloriana. The cadential chords are not always especially well-balanced - The Triumph of Victoria suffers from this. There could be more change of tone-colour in response to the harmony - especially given the telling nature of the polyphonic texture in relation to the text - as in The Silver Swan. Finally, I wasn’t especially keen on the great gasps of breath before each phrase - maybe they’re using the breaths as an audible upbeat, but it is quite intrusive on a recording.
I was pleased to find the words to the songs printed although there are misprints here. On the other hand, I was disappointed though not in the slightest surprised to find no fewer than three photographs of The King’s Singers in various states of affected relaxation but not a single photograph or portrait of a composer or a monarch. At least we have reasonably intelligent and thorough notes on the music, however!
On the whole, this is a well-programmed, and presented, disc, just rather let down by the performances. Although I cannot honestly say that I have any particular respect for the renditions of the work on this disc, it is nevertheless an enjoyable release to listen to and one that I will probably return to on occasion, for the programming of works, if not the singing.
A well-programmed and presented disc, just rather let down by the performances.
KING HENRY VIII Pastime with good companie [1.53]
William CORNYSH Ah, Robin, gentle Robin [2.25] Blow thy horn, hunter [2.23]
KING HENRY VIII It is to me a right great joy [1.33]
ANON Hey, trolly lolly lo! [3.56]
Ellis GIBBONS Long live fair Oriana [2.39]
Orlando GIBBONS The Silver Swan (Round) [2.00]
Orlando GIBBONS The Silver Swan [1.46]
John HILTON Fair Oriana, beauty’s Queen [2.21]
John MUNDY Lightly she whipped o’er the dales [3.11]
John DOWLAND Flow, O my tears [1.37]
John BENNET Weep, O mine eyes [2.44]
Thomas WEELKES As Vesta was from Latmos hill descending [3.19]
Sir Walter PARRATT The Triumph of Victoria [2.33]
Sir Hubert PARRY Who can dwell with greatness? [3.07]
Sir Edward ELGAR To her beneath whose steadfast star [4.51]
Benjamin BRITTEN Choral Dances from Gloriana
Time and Concord [1.46]
Country Girls [1.17]
Rustics and Fishermen [1.00]
Final Dance of Homage [2.20]
Paul DRAYTON A Rough Guide to the Royal Succession (It’s just one damn King after another...) [12.48]