by Natalie Mann, Lister reviewer
As the pop song lyrics say, “Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing,” and it seems to apply doubly when hearing classical ensembles live. The King’s Singers have built an amazing oeuvre of gorgeous recordings throughout the years, ranging from high art to Beatles arrangements. But nothing prepared me for the experience of hearing the King’s Singers live at University of Redlands’ Memorial Chapel.
The Memorial Chapel is the perfect venue for an a cappella chamber group. With high ceilings and gorgeous wood paneling, it’s as if the surroundings continue to polish and breathe life into the final chords. The full house certainly was prepared for an amazing concert, as the audience’s silence allowed certain pianissimo sections to feel as if they materialized from the tingling in the spine.
The environment seemed only to magnify the King’s Singers tireless commitment to impeccable artistic standards. The six members who now comprise the ensemble brought a sense of ease and joviality, while delivering a technically flawless musical performance. Membership in the ensemble ranges from just two to twenty-six years, feeding the group from both long experience and fresh perspective.
The King’s Singers provided very detailed program notes and translations, but various singers also shared introductions during the concert, building a deeper connection with the audience. Opening the concert was a work entitled “Horizons” by Peter Louis van Dijk, commissioned by the King’s Singers. The composition honors the San bushmen, indigenous to South Africa, whose population was decimated by European disease and slaughter. Incorporating clapping rhythms and clean harmonies, the piece ranged from soaring moments to quiet desperation, ending in a brilliant, clear chord that held the audience for moments of reflective silence before thunderous applause.
The songs from Britain included traditional English, Welsh and Irish tunes, as well as a setting of the Robert Burns poem, “My Love is like a Red, Red Rose.” The traditional pieces showed various singers as soloists in gorgeous lyrical lines blooming from modalities and tight harmonies. The visit to music inspired by the United Kingdom finished with a recent commission entitled “Cartography” for the King’s Singers performance on the BBC Proms in 2002. The poem, reflecting the landscape starting at Hadrian’s Wall, was heard through open, modern and angular chords which were touched by intimate moments of text-painting, such as in the word “secrets.”
The next portion of the concert featured works from Renaissance Europe with works by the immortal greats including Isaac, Lassus, and Vasquez. These works are where the King’s Singers can truly display their vocal superiority, with spotless intonation and flawless diction. The visit to continental Europe ended with Debussy’s luscious setting of Trois chansons de Charles d’Orleans. Both playful and pensive, the pseudo-Renaissance setting brought the first half of the concert to a delightful close.
The final portion of the concert featured works from their most recent CD release entitled Postcards, which features folk and popular tunes from around the world. The songs show the singers’ mastery of many languages, as well as their ability to incorporate a wide variety of musical styles in a seamless line. Works included songs from Canada, Mexico, and a fun setting of “Volare” representing Italy.
As the crowd clamored for encores, the King’s Singers delivered. They presented a jazzy setting of “Night and Day,” and a beautiful, reflective setting of Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes.”
Listeners were rewarded with an amazing trip around the world, thanks to the stunning vocalists who make the King’s Singers one of the most highly regarded vocal ensembles in the world.