United Kingdom The King’s Singers’ ‘The Library’ Live – Various: St. Pancras Clock Tower, London. Live-stream viewed via IDAGIO’s Global Concert Hall on 2.10.2020. (RP)
Beth Orton – ‘Call Me the Breeze’ (arr. Bruerton)
Kacey Musgraves – ‘Rainbow’ (arr. Dunachie)
Paul Simon – ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’ (arr. Jackman)
Lennon/McCartney – ‘Yesterday’ (arr. Chilcott)
Rimsky-Korsakov – ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ (arr. Runswick)
Laura Mvula – ‘Father, Father’ (arr. Whitacre/Bruerton)
Flanders and Swann – ‘Slow Train’ (arr. Langford)
David, Hoffmann & Livingstone – ‘A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes’ (Cinderella)
James Blake – ‘Meet You in the Maze’
Traditional – ‘Takeda’ (arr. Ives), ‘Greensleeves’ (arr. Chilcott), ‘Blow Away the Morning Dew’ (arr. Langford), ‘Danny Boy’ (arr. Knight), ‘Down to the River to Pray’ (arr. Lawson)
Gershwin – ‘Love Is Here to Stay’ (arr. Rodney Bennett), ‘Oh, I Can’t Sit Down!’ (Porgy and Bess, arr. Chilcott)
Amanda McBroom – ‘The Rose’
If the ethereal sound of an all-male, a cappella ensemble singing a program of feel-good music is your cup of tea, then The King’s Singers: ‘The Library’ Live is for you. There is a sentimental air – usually bittersweet, although there are humorous moments – that is gentle and soothing in this concert. Couple that with the ease and beauty of the six men’s singing and you have an hour of music that tugs at the heartstrings, pleases the ear and goes down as easy as a glass of fine port.
The King’s Singers’ calling card is the mix of one bass, two baritones, one tenor and two countertenors, a so-called ‘Pyramid of Sound’. This bottom-heavy approach creates a carpet of sound above which the higher voices float clear and true. In its various permutations, the group has been perfecting their signature style and sound for over 50 years, and it is on full display in every song in this concert.
‘The Library’ Live celebrates the group’s close-harmony repertoire, a phrase they use to describe the more popular fare that they perform. The ensemble not only mines the past but also commissions new works to expand the crowd-pleasing genre. For this program, they zeroed in on popular music and folk songs and even a bit of country western, eschewing anything remotely high-brow except for an animated, buzzy rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’. Every song, however, was elevated to the level of a Schubert Lied through their imagination, artistry and integrity.
Familiarity breeds contentment in such pop hits as Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’, Paul Simon’s ‘Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover’ and Amanda McBroom’s ‘The Rose’. The wordless prelude and postlude in Bob Chilcott’s arrangement of ‘Yesterday’ were fresh, simple and beautiful.
Of the various folk songs, ‘Danny Boy’ was the richest in sound and emotion, with a burnished beauty that they also summoned for ‘Slow Train’ by the British duo Flanders and Swann. Written in 1963, the song laments the closure of railway stations and lines, as well the passing of a way of life. Give these six a tender melody and tight, traditional harmonies, and they always strike gold.
Simplicity and sincerity marked their performance of James Blake’s reflections on an ex-lover in ‘Meet You in the Maze’. Lines such as ‘It’s me who makes the peace in me’ and ‘Music can’t be everything’ resonate nowadays in ways that Blake never intended, although the six men make a good case that the opposite is true in the latter. Their rendition of Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Rainbow’, the country singer’s uplifting ‘message of hope for anyone in the midst of dark times’, was another bit of perfection.
The gotcha moment for me in the hour-long program was ‘A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes’ from the Walt Disney film Cinderella, which was requested by an online fan. There was something in the bouncy arrangement, coupled with the buoyancy of the singing, to say nothing of the twinkle in their eyes and the slightly loopy delivery, that transported me to a happy place. The King’s Singers had somehow managed to bottle joy and release it in sound.
‘The Library’ Live is the first installment in the group’s digital concert tour, and it is available for streaming until 31 December. This is the ensemble’s second collaboration with IDAGIO through its Fair Artist Payout Model, where 80% of the proceeds goes directly to the performers. Who knows what December will bring, but The King’s Singers are guaranteeing a holiday gift for their fans. Anyone who purchases tickets for the first three concerts in the digital series will receive the gift of ‘Christmas with The King’s Singers’ on 22 December gratis.
For more about The King’s Singers #DigitalTour, click here.