Treat for the ears from venerable and meticulous English masters.
After a half-hour or so of the King’s Singers, you stop trying to pick out individual notes and just let their warmth of feeling wash over you. The arrangements (mostly by Brit Alexander L’Estrange) are probably their chief glory. In Brisbane, the two biggest hits were Night and Day and Cole Porter’s great tune Let’s Misbehave– which featured some outrageously cultivated English accents. If you’ve never heard the British group, you really do have to give them a go – preferably live. Fortunately, it appears that Australia is finally a regular destination on their tour calendar.
The King’s Singers are very, very nearly a technically perfect ensemble. Formed in 1968 by a sextet of vocal scholars of the Choir of King’s College Cambridge, the English church choir style – and obsessive attention to detail – has persisted. If there was a missed note in their two-and-a-bit hour concert, I missed it. Their pace is relentless, too. This is not easy music. Their music is delicate, light, intricate, often witty – and always English.
They’re the original pop/classical crossover group. In a typical King’s Singers concert you might hear half a dozen motets, and a couple of tastefully arranged Beatles tunes. Unusually, in Brisbane, they performed only American music written in the first half of the twentieth century. This is probably because they’ve just released an all-American CD. It was a nice change – the repertoire was unusually tight.
It would be silly to single out any individual member for commendation. The whole point of their style is the interplay between parts, the blend of voices. Ideally, nobody should stick out for praise. Nonetheless, I was particularly impressed by Chris Bruerton, their newest member, hailing from New Zealand. His voice is a little richer than you expect, a little deeper in solo-work. Given the intimidating learning curve he would have faced since joining two years ago, it is impressive that he has been able to fit his own interpretation within the broader style. A testament to his courage if nothing else!
The a-capella English church choir is a very specific aesthetic. If there is a criticism that can be levelled at the sextet, it’s a lack of stylistic sensitivity. But this is a matter of taste. Either you don’t mind their adaption jazz standards and spirituals – they sing them little different than Thomas Tallis – or you do. I love it – but I must admit that their arrangement of Gershwin’s I Can’t Sit Down was a bit peculiar. Some tunes don’t work, but that is true of any cultural endeavour.
And you do have to enjoy their style, too. It’s very different to what Australian audiences are used to, I think. Their music is not fiery or notably passionate – it is beautiful. It is refined, and subtle and obsessively rehearsed. And their music is gorgeous. That is, in my view, more than enough. Their two-and-a-bit hour concert left me on the edge of my seat.
I’m often annoyed or even angered by Australian (or perhaps it’s just Queensland’s) audiences’ lack of respect for world-class performers. We rarely give a standing ovation even to a brilliant performance like this one. We’re a greedy bunch, though: we forced the Singers back for a second encore. Very rude indeed.
A very successful end to a very successful tour. This is only the second time in living memory that the British institution has graced our stages. I pray that there are many more.