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The King’s Singers: Gold
rec. 2016/17, Michael’s Church, Highgate, London; St Michael & All Angels’ Church, Summertown, Oxford SIGNUM CLASSICSSIGCD500 [3 CDs: 194:29]
2018 sees the 50th anniversary of the King’s Singers, and they are
celebrating in style with this luxurious collection of numbers that show them
at their best. The packaging is lavish and attractive, the three discs encased
within a hard-back book with full texts and translations (other options also
exist). Some of the tracks are newly composed or arranged for this anniversary release, and others are a revisiting of things from before. They were certainly all recorded specially for this disc. There’s too much to comment on everything, so here are a few highlights that especially stuck with me.
It’s perhaps the close harmony with which they’re most popularly associated, and the selection on this first disc is really lovely. I really liked the bouncy optimism of the opening track, Maya Angelou’s hymn to human unity set to music by Bob Chilcott, and Angélique Kido’s Kelele is tremendously fun in its exuberant charm. Bob Chilcott’s arrangements turn up a lot, and rightly so because not only is he a hugely gifted composer, but he’s a former King’s Singer himself, so he knows exactly what makes the group tick. His arrangement of Billy Joel’s And so it goes is delightfully sweet, as is his Shenandoah. Elsewhere in the pop world, their take on John Legend’s All of Me works rather well, and I really liked the arrangement of See you again by Christopher Gabbitas, a current King’s Singer. The Black Horse and the Cherry Tree is very different but very successful. Scarborough Fair is wistful and very appropriately folk-like, as is Loch Lomond, which is given a performance of rare beauty that left me rather moved.
The Spiritual disc is inherently better behaved and has a very different tone, but it showcases the group’s strengths very well. The prayer of Henry VI sounds introverted and profound, while Byrd’s Sing Joyfully does not suffer from having smaller forces. Chilcott shows his spiritual side every bit as successfully as the secular with a lovely setting of William Baldwin’s Thou, my love, art fair, and they bring unhurried simplicity to the other Renaissance polyphony from Palestrina, Tallis and Lassus. Rheinberger’s Abendlied and Reger’s Morgengesang both sound very tightly harmonious in a very Teutonic way, every bit as much as Poulenc’s prayers of St Francis sound Gallic. Richard Rodney Bennett’s setting of John Donne is very striking, as is the remarkable Hebrew setting of Psalm 124, though Whitacre’s This Marriage is a bit sickly for my taste. Vaughan Williams’ Rest and Stanford’s Bluebird both stretch the definition of sacred a little, but they suit the group's close harmony picture so well that I can’t see anyone complaining.
The third disc, “Secular,” has the most catch-all title but, on balance, I think it’s the one I enjoyed the most. It gives the singers a chance to branch far and wide across cultures, countries and time periods, and the results are full of discoveries. The greatest gain, I think, comes from the foreign language settings. They range from Takemitsu’s setting of some Japanese “Handmade proverbs”, through to some European Renaissance motets, via some really delightful French settings. The Fauré and Saint-Saëns are particularly lovely, sung with more Gallic élan than you’ll find in many choirs south of La Manche, their Fauré, in particularly, sounding wonderfully cosy in its folksiness, whirl Saint-Saëns’ setting of Théobald Saint-Félix makes a full psychological drama out of what could just be a dainty sailing song. The same composer treats Croze’s Romance du Soir with all the full-blown Romanticism it deserves, and Claude Le Jeune’s Revecy venir de Printans has all the bounce and jollity of a Christmas carol. The Germans are very well served, too, especially Schubert’s Die Nacht which here sounds utterly beguiling, and Peter Louis van Dijk’s African-sounding Horizons is a lovely piece, full of characteristic rhythms and local-sounding flourishes.
Amidst these international treasures, the British music still sounds great with tight polyphony from Byrd and Johnson, and, in the more sentimental vein, Lovatt’s arrangement of The Little Green Lane never fails to move me, for all that I know I should know better. They finish with a sequence of music that’s mostly of medieval origin, and it’s all cherishable, from the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it music of Senfl, through the extremely alluring piece by Josquin, to a Spanish love song that has all the structural seriousness of a sacred motet. The very last track builds (slightly bizarrely) on a series of themes from Brahms’ third symphony. Maybe it’s an in-joke, but it’s also quite affecting in its own way, even apart from the Brahms link.
The layout of the King’s Singers (two counter-tenors, a tenor, two baritones and a bass) has never changed though, of course, its line-up has been renewed dozens of times. They have given countless hours of pleasure to music lovers all over the world in the last five decades, and this disc is a distillation, by their current incarnation, of what makes them special. Here’s to the next fifty years.
CD 1 – Close Harmony [67:37] We Are Bob Chilcott And I love her John Lennon and Paul McCartney (arr. Bob Chilcott) Don't worry about me Frances (arr . Christopher Bruerton) Kelele Angélique Kidjo (arr . Toby Young) And so it goes Billy Joel (arr . Bob Chilcott) Down with love Harold Arlen (arr . Gordon Langford) All of me John Legend (arr. Alexander L’Estrange) Shenandoah Trad. (arr . Bob Chilcott) Lamorna Trad. (arr . Goff Richards) Some folks' lives roll easy Paul Simon (arr . Andrew Jackman) See you again Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth (arr. Christopher Gabbitas) Alice in Wonderland Spike Milligan (arr. Gordon Langford) Black horse and the cherry tree KT Tunstall (arr. Alexander L’Estrange) Danny Boy Trad. (arr. Peter Knight) I'll follow the sun John Lennon and Paul McCartney (arr. Bill Ives) Bobby Shaftoe Trad. (arr. Gordon Langford) Love is here to stay George Gershwin (arr. Richard Rodney Bennett) Scarborough Fair Trad. (arr . Christopher Gabbitas) That lonesome road James Taylor (arr . Simon Carrington) Loch Lomond Trad. (arr. David Overton) Down by the riverside Trad. (arr .Robert Rice) M.L.K. U2 (arr .Bob Chilcott)
CD 2 – Spiritual [61:15] The Prayer of King Henry VI Dr Henry Ley Sing Joyfully William Byrd Thou, my love, art fair Bob Chilcott Sicut cervus Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina In manus tuas Thomas Tallis Master of Music Toby Hession Musica Dei donum Orlandus Lassus Abendlied Josef Rheinberger The bell doth toll Richard Rodney Bennett Quatre petites prières de Saint François d’Assise Francis Poulenc Das ist je gewißlich wahr Heinrich Schütz Morgengesang Max Reger This marriage Eric Whitacre Psalm 124 Salamone Rossi Hebreo Versa est in luctum Alonso Lobo Rest Ralph Vaughan Williams Tutivillus Geoffrey Poole The bluebird Charles Villiers Stanford
CD 3 – Secular [65:37] Be not afeard John Rutter Le papillon et la fleur Gabriel Fauré (arr. Goff Richards) Dessus le marché d’ Arras Orlandus Lassus Though Amaryllis dance in green William Byrd Lagrimas de mi Consuelo Juan Vásquez Handmade Proverbs Toru Takemitsu Les Marins de Kermor Camille Saint-Saëns Con amores, la mi madre Juan de Anchieta (arr . Bob Chilcott) All meine Herzgedanken Johannes Brahms Die Nacht Franz Schubert Revecy venir du Printans Claude le Jeune Romance du soir Camille Saint-Saëns Horizons Peter Louis van Dijk Plaisir d’amour Jean-Paul-Égide Martini (arr. Goff Richards) Come, blessed bird Edward Johnson The little green lane Sydney Lovatt Das G’läut zu Speyer Ludwig Senfl Basiez moi! Josquin des Prez Gentil señora mia Juan Vásquez Quand tu dors près de moi Georges Auric (arr. Gordon Langford)