Gold standard for a cappella

The years may have passed and members come and gone, but what made The King's Singers special in 1968 continues to make them special today. PHOTO: KINGSSINGERS.COM



The King's Singers

Victoria Concert Hall

Last Friday

Back in 1968, six young Cambridge graduates gave their first professional concert as The King's Singers.

Now world-renowned, this vocal sextet is marking its 50th anniversary with a world tour which includes two performances in Singapore.

If anyone in the packed audience was wondering how these six lads have not only survived at the top of their game for half a century, but still look so young and fresh-faced, the answer is that there have been many changes of personnel since 1968.

None of the singers on stage was even born when The King's Singers made their professional debut.

The years may have passed and members come and gone, but what made The King's Singers special in 1968 continues to make them special today, as their first Singapore concert showed.

There were no props, no costume changes, no choreography, no silly visual antics.

Dressed in dark suits, white shirts and ties, the six walked out on to a totally bare stage.

They should have walked out on to a totally dark one too, but light pollution from a galaxy of smartphone screens in the audience put paid to that idea.

What they offered the audience was wonderful music, flawless singing and delightful presentation, each singer introducing a segment of the programme with endearing charm and wit.

Throughout it, all the audience remained utterly captivated, giving them an ecstatic ovation at the end.

Very few choral groups anywhere in the world have such mastery of tuning, coordination and ensemble as The King's Singers.

Very few produce such a beautifully blended, velvety, golden sound.

And very few deliver words with such unforced clarity - brilliant in the French, Latin and English, theyfaltered only when it came to the American (Brits can never put on a convincing American accent - and vice versa).

Every song was immaculately delivered with a quality of tone which, especially on final chords, redefined luxury.

Friday's programme cleverly traced the group's history.

Opening with music they would each have sung as choristers in the Chapel of King's College Cambridge, their deep affection for the music of Byrd, Tallis and Palestrina communicated itself through deeply absorbing performances.

The programme went on to celebrate a former member-turned-composer-and-arranger - Bob Chilcott, a composer closely associated with their first decades - Richard Rodney Bennett, and two composers who have written especially for the current group - Toby Hession and Nico Muhly.

It also looked back to other events of 1968. The assassination of Martin Luther King was recalled in an arrangement of U2's M L K (not entirely successful), while the heyday of The Beatles was remembered with an arrangement of Penny Lane (pure magic).

Fifty years on, The King's Singers continue to set the Gold standard for a cappella.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2018, with the headline Gold standard for a cappella. Subscribe