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kings singers library vol 4 sigcd718
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The King’s Singers
The Library - Volume 4
rec. 2021, Snape, Maltings, UK

The King’s Singers have an over 50-year history of being at the forefront of small choral ensembles, a fact that helped them bring their brand of professionalism to several countries over the decades. Known for their interpretations of classical as well as modern repertoire, they have commissioned many a choral arranger to provide them with close-harmony versions of popular songs to use as encore pieces in their concerts. In 2019 Signum Classics began releasing a series of CD singles which collected groups of this specialist repertoire, under the title “The Library”. Now in 2022 we have reached a fourth volume in this unique and interesting series.

I can well recall hearing their recordings being played in my home when the group’s star was first rising on the music charts during the 1970s. My parents would often play these records, which contained the most wonderful arrangements of songs by then current songwriters such as Neil Sedaka, Randy Newman, and David Bowie scattered among the songs by earlier-generation composers. Back then, these pieces seemed to be somewhat ground-breaking; however, now in the 21st century they have lost that aura of daring. In a world of hip-hop and rap music, a choral arrangement of a song by Freddie Mercury acquires a cloak of elite respectability accompanying the beautiful sounds of its new vocal clothing. Certainly no-one would be more surprised by this than the flamboyant Freddie himself, had he lived to see it.

The present disc opens with a smooth and mellow setting of Harold Arlen’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The jazz harmonies that envelop this song fall pleasingly on the ear but it does tend to obscure the sense of wistfulness that is inherent in the song made famous by Judy Garland in the film The Wizard of Oz. More successful to my ears is the softly romantic arrangement of Bob Dylan’s Make you Feel My Love, pitch perfect in the throats of the ensemble.

The aforementioned Freddie Mercury is represented in a breezy and upbeat rendition of his memorable hit, Seaside Rendezvous. This is a highly entertaining performance by the group, including a cutesy but wholly appropriate section played by five kazoos. In another interesting track, Joni Mitchell’s Sisotowbell Lane features a significant spotlight for the two countertenors who have always been a feature of the sound of this group. Patrick Dunachie and Edward Button manage well with a sweet tone and finely controlled sense of line.

I have long loved the Sherman Brothers' beautiful lullaby Hushabye Mountain that was featured in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The current arrangement is a definite misfire as it destroys the divine simplicity of the original melody. The disc recovers its composure with a nicely textured arrangement of Une gente bergère, a traditional folksong from the Auvergne.

The two closing tracks are afflicted with issues involving ill-chosen tempi that rather detract from the achievement of the groups’ excellent vocalizing. Randy Newman’s Texas Girl at the Funeral of Her Father has been given a tender vocal setting but the very long pauses in the music, though possibly effective in live performance, causes the entire thing to drag too much for home listening. Cy Coleman’s catchy The Rhythm of Life has been a crowd-pleaser since it first appeared in the stage musical Sweet Charity. The new arrangement’s tight harmonies and breakneck pacing forces this song to go whizzing by, robbing it of its cumulatively overwhelming effect on the listener. Sadly it closes the disc on a disappointing note.

The group itself does not disappoint in its perfect tuning and absolute vocal control, which are showcased in some challenging vocal settings. The engineering of this recording made in the superb acoustics of the Snape, Maltings could not be improved upon.

Mike Parr

Harold Arlen & E.Y.Harburg
Somewhere over the Rainbow (arr. Neil Richardson)
Freddie Mercury
Seaside rendezvous (arr. Paul Hart)
Bob Dylan
Make You Feel My Love (arr. Alexander L’Estrange)
Richard & Robert Sherman
Hushabye Mountain (arr. Blake Morgan)
Une gente bergère (arr. Goff Richards)
Joni Mitchell
Sisotowbell Lane (arr. Patrick Dunachie)
Randy Newman
Texas Girl at the Funeral of Her Father (arr. Bob Chilcott)
Cy Coleman & Dorothy Fields
Rhythm of Life (arr. Peter Knight)

Published: October 3, 2022

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