Review: The King's Singers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 11:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 11:14am

The King's Singers
City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong
City Hall Concert Hall
Reviewed: May 23

I attended one The King's Singers' early concerts, in 1970, before their adoption by television and the recording industry. The recital was held in a gloomy reading room at Christ Church College in Oxford, where the sextet's cultured voices floated through sacred Renaissance works before leaping to a light-hearted medley, introducing the audience to what was to become one of their trademark frivolities, The Mermaid.

At the time, their concept was groundbreaking on the British music scene. Some 45 years later, how have things changed? Well, there were no mermaids at this concert, but there was such a variety of content and delivery that made that early recital look staid. Just when you thought every possible variation in style had been explored in repertoire stretching over four decades, out came an arrangement of Frances Yip's Shanghai Beach as an encore, delivered in Cantonese to the delight of the crowd.

It was a long way from what filled the first half: John Rutter's The Wind in the Willows, dedicated to The King's Singers and based on the story with the same title by Kenneth Grahame. Sensitively accompanied by the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong under their chief conductor Jean Thorel, the piece opened and closed with comfortable stretches reminiscent of runny honey and fluffy clouds.

The second half was an exhibition of the group's supremacy in a cappella, forming their own vocal orchestra and giving a faultless display of unanimity of attack, balance, timbre and characterisation. From Renaissance madrigals to 20th-century edgy eccentricity, plus English folksongs and a selection from The Great American Songbook, there was neither a rocky, nor a dull moment.

Sam Olluver