By Nick Kimberley, Evening Standard:
It's an ancient conundrum: if the constituent parts of an object have
been replaced one by one, is it still the same object? For the King's
Singers, the answer is definitely "Yes".
This year marks their 40th anniversary and while none of the current
members was in at the beginning, it is recognisably the same ensemble
with the same characteristics: immaculate harmony, minutely
synchronised delivery, identikit blazers and ties. This opening
concert of its birthday celebrations could easily have been a greatest
Nothing so frivolous. Instead we got an austere, even ascetic survey
of 16th-century Iberian polyphony, the first half sacred, the second
It may not have been obviously crowd-pleasing but it made a perfect
showcase for the sextet's architecturally layered sound, keening
falsetto and droning bass providing top and bottom, tenor and baritone
floating discreetly in between.
Before the interval, renaissance bassoon provided another texture, low
and intestinal one minute, pleading and mournful the next. Merging
perfectly with the voices, it floated like pungent incense.
The centrepiece was a massive, 20-minute setting of the Lamentations
of Jeremiah by Alonso Lobo, a vocal challenge despatched with almost
nonchalant precision. They are too refined ever to sing loud, of
course, but they have an imposing weight of sound that it seems
impossible for just six voices to achieve.
After the interval, things got as near raucous as they ever do with
this group. The good humour was infectious, yet even in bawdy songs
about well-hung sailors there was no hint of vulgarity.
At times it might be nice to hear some grit and grime in the
glistening pearl of their harmonies but then they would no longer be
the King's Singers.
Series continues 30 April. Information: 020 7730 4500.
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