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Finding Harmony
The King’s Singers
rec. 2019, St Augustine’s Church, Kilburn, London

Fans of the King’s Singers will love this. It has everything we have come to expect from them; flawless singing, outstanding diction, impeccable balance, a tangible feeling of true humanity, a wonderfully wide and varied repertory in gorgeous arrangements, and a tremendously rich sense of close harmony with a deeply comforting bass resonance, all encased within a superlative recording by Mike Hatch. As for those who might admire their technical magic, but perhaps have a few reservations about their musical interpretations, this latest recording will do nothing to entice them away from that viewpoint; there is a very real sense here that, whether it is Byrd or Michel Legrand, Luther’s chorale Ein feste Burg or the famous South African song of freedom, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, the performances have been coated in such a thick layer of polished lacquer that they all sound the same. For many that complete absence of distinguishing marks (beyond, of course, the unarguable vocal perfection) is what makes The King’s Singers so special, and nothing I can say would make anyone change their minds one way or the other.

At first, I thought the title might be ironic; after all, if there’s one thing The King’s Singer do by instinct, it is to find perfect vocal harmony. They also have that special ability always to find the ideal arranger both for their unique sound and to bring out the inner sense of the music being arranged. So how is that music from the time of the Protestant Reformation through the Scottish fight for independence (the 18th century one, not the 21st century one) the Nazi persecution of Jews, the US Civil Rights Movement, and the break-up of the Soviet Union, can find a common ground on what is, superficially, a light, charming recording which oozes musical beauty? The answer lies in the political and social undercurrent which is the theme of the disc – the harmony of the title referring to human harmony rather than its musical counterpart. As Patrick Dunache’s generously expansive booklet notes puts it, “the album looks at different episodes from around the world where singing together has played a key part in the course of history or continues to shape it today”.

Informing every track on the disc is a real sense of conviction and a wonderful vitality which sometimes manifests itself as near-slapstick humour (Daryl Runswick’s deliciously cheeky arrangement of the wildly eccentric Puirt a’ bheul gives them a marvellous palette on which to mix all kinds of weird and wonderful vocal inflexions), sometimes in outbursts of infectious rhythmic energy (Ein feste Burg kicks off with just such an episode), and also shows itself in a real feel for the words. One can almost feel them rolling the Latin text of Byrd’s Ne irascaris, Domine around their tongues as if it were good wine to savour, of the Gaelic of James MacMillan’s lovely arrangement of O, chi, chi mi na mòrbheanna as if it were the finest of single malt whiskies. And while The King’s Singers can never really be accused of seriously hiding their distinctly Cambridge vowels, they do create a sense of empathy with the vocal inflexions associated with the vocal cultures of the music they perform – there is a genuinely African feel to their take on Ayihlome/Qula kwedini.
Marc Rochester

One Day (arr. Richard Rodney Bennett) [2:49]
If I Can Help Somebody (arr. Stacey V. Gibbs) [3:36]
S’Dremlen feygl (arr. Toby Young) [4:11]
Tsintskaro (trad. Georgian) [3:40]
Bread and Roses (arr. Rebecca Dale) [3:30]
Heliseb väljadel (Urmas Sisask) [2:44]
Mu isamaa on minu arm (Gustav Emesaks) [3:40]
Cielito lindo (arr. Jorge Cózatl) [3:35]
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (arr J S Bach) [2:49]
Ne irascaris, Domine – Civitas sancti tui (William Byrd) [8:11]
Praying (arr. Rebecca Dale) [4:20]
Puirt a’ bheul (arr. Daryl Runswick) [2:38]
O, chì, chì mi na mòrbheanna (arr. James MacMillan) [3:15]
Shen khar venakhi (trad. Georgian) [3:22]
Ayihlome/Qula kwedini (arr. Neo Muyanga) [3:03]
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (arr. Neo Muyanga) [3:11]
One Last Time (arr. Richard Wilberforce) [4:22]
Strange Fruit (arr. Stacey V. Gibbs) [3:30]
This Little Light of Mine (arr. Stacey V. Gibbs) [3:03]

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