United Kingdom LIVE from London Christmas 2021 – The Kings Singers: Recorded in St-Martin-in-the-Fields, London, on 30.11.2021 and streamed on 11.12.2021. (CC)
A concert (full details below) that doubled as a disc launch: for The King’s Singers new album, Christmas Carols with The King’s Singers. Recorded at St-Martin-in-the-Fields in front of an audience, this was a supremely well programmed concert, starting appropriately enough with the plainchant Hodie Christus natus est (Today Christ is born) before the familiar Tomorrow is my dancing day, the latter shot through with vibrant spirit.
Off to Catalonia, Spain for La filadora (with a vocal invocation of Christmas bells ringing in Christmas Day). Above and beyond that vocal carillon, it was the blending of the voices that was so remarkable: perfectly judged and balanced chords against moments of dialogue that flew across the performance space, followed by the lovely Julebudet til dern, der bugge (The Christmas Message, to thine who dwell), beautifully interior and even fragile in its textures. It is quite a leap to the delightful rhythmic play of Gaudate (traditional, arranged by Brian Kay); it is also difficult to imagine a vocal group as on the ball as the King’s Singers.
After that excursion to Europe, back to England for June Collin’s The Quiet Heart, prefacing a number of surely familiar pieces: the lullaby for the baby Jesus Balulalow, and a traditional English folk carol (Gabriel’s Message). The latter first, a beautifully modulated telling of the tale of the annunciation by the Angel Gabriel before James Burton’s gentle Balulalow offered a space of respite. How sprightly Ding! Dong! Merrily on High seemed in contrast, and how even the long vocal melismas in this performance.
With three songs from Finding Harmony, it was not all Christmas music: Urmas Sisack’s Heliseb Väijadel (part of the Singing Revolution which led to Estonia’s independence from Soviet rule); from the Civil Rights Movement of the US (If I can help somebody) and Mexico (Cielito lindo). That disc Finding Harmony should be a classic; these three excerpts were impeccably chosen, Patrick Dunachie’s countertenor soaring over the group in the Sisask, Julian Gregory a superbly eloquent soloist in ‘If I can help somebody’, complemented by Jonathan Howard’s rich bass. Everyone knows Cielito lindo, even if they don’t know the title, so it was the perfect close to the group – and perfectly slick, too. There seems to be some sort of telepathy within this group – watching them close pieces perfectly, the last chords perfectly tapered (and yet no one seems to obviously take the lead to make it so). Lovely warming chestnuts roasting on an open fire take us to the concert’s interval.
A timed static ten-minute interval in the video is a bit of a novelty, but how effective was the beginning of the second part, the anonymous Song of the Nuns of Chester using the space of the church, the members of The King’s Singers entering the stage area one by one. Interesting, too, how Henry Hawkesworth’s arrangement of Quelle est cette odeur agréable (a piece already heard in the first concert of this year‘s season, A Christmas Cracker) seemed to melt itself into existence. A reimagined carol, and the first of several: the next was arranged by one of the members of The King’s Singers, Christopher Bruerton, Wither’s Rocking Hymn, featuring a crystal-clear countertenor solo from Dunachie.
How wonderful it was to end with two lovely pieces. The traditional lullaby Dormi, dormi first. Nice to hear a lovely solo by countertenor Edward Button here (and to hear the two countertenors working in close harmony so beautifully), but it was the guest appearance of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five in God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen that crowned the concert. Superbly clever, performed with palpable joy, it was such a treat.
Interestingly, another piece made a second appearance this Christmas season in The King’s Singers concert: Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, arranged Alexander L’Estrange. Nice to hear an arrangement by Nick Ashby, one of the group’s two baritones, of Christmas Time is Here, a sophisticated arrangement that included a touch of regret that these Yuletide sentiments cannot exist throughout the year. Santa Claus is Coming to Town is surely perfect for The King’s Singers: huge fun, followed by Silent Night sung in the original German (Stille Nacht) and a decidedly silly Deck the Halls. Great fun. And after that clutch of encores, two more, Jingle Bells, with the boys still singing with pinpoint accuracy, and a heart-warming Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
As an addition, Ben Parry and the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain sang Lillie Harris’s Christmas Silence rather beautifully, recorded in the VOCES8 Centre. It is a simple, devotional setting. of a text by Margaret Deland commissioned in 2021 and was receiving its world premiere here.
Plainchant – Hodie Christus natus est
Trad. (arr. Willcocks) – Tomorrow is my dancing day
Travelling to Europe
Trad. (arr. Richards) – La filadora
J. P. E Hartmann (arr. Holten) – Julebudet til dern, der bugge
Nordqvist – Jul, Jul, strålande Jul
Trad. (arr. B. Kay) – Gaudete
Celebrations in England
J. Collin – The Quiet Heart
Trad (arr. Pettman) – The Angel Gabriel
Burton – Balulalow
Trad. (arr. Wood) – Ding! Dong! Merrily on High
Sisask – Heliseb Väijadel
Androzzo (arr. Gibbs) – If I can help somebody
Mendoza y Cortés (arr. Cozátl) – Cielito lindo
… at this time of year
Tormé (arr. Knight) – The Christmas Song
Anon. – Song of the Nuns of Chester
Ancient Carols Reimagined
Trad. (arr. Hawkesworth) – Quelle est cette odeur agréable
Trad. (arr. Bruerton) – Wither’s Rocking Hymn
Trad. (arr. Turner) – Dormi, dormi
Trad. (arr. Keating) – God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Anderson (arr. L’Estrange) – Sleigh Ride
Vince Guaraldi (arr. Ashby) – Christmas Time is Here
Coots/Gillespie (arr. L’Estrange) – Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town
Gruber – Stille Nacht
Trad. – Deck the Halls with boughs of Holly
Trad. – Jingle Bells
Martin (arr. Roberts) – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas