The King’s Singers launched their national tour with a concert in Perth that revealed what a well-oiled machine this six-piece is. The tour marks the ensemble’s 50th anniversary and with their tablet scores, suave purple suits and scripted information between songs they left nothing to chance as they smiled their way through the concert. The English vocal group currently comprises countertenors Patrick Dunachie and Timothy Wayne-Wright, tenor Julian Gregory, baritones Christopher Bruerton and Christopher Gabbitas and bass Jonathan Howard.
Their program savoured the diversity of vocal music and ranged from sacred works to barbershop. The Singers were supported by the 20-strong St George’s Cathedral Consort who both accompanied and extended the King Singer’s sound from quartet intimacy to orchestral lushness.
The concert was not part of the Perth Festival (which ends this weekend) but the collaboration between local and international groups was a welcome balance to the festival’s lightweight classical music program which was distinctly lacking in local artists.
The King’s Singers opened the evening with the hushed purity of Henry Ley’s The Prayer of King Henry VI which was contrasted with the fast counterpoint of Renaissance repertoire. Two pieces from the romantic era displayed stunning dynamic range; in Saint-Saëns Romance du Soir the ends of phrases vaporising into thin air while Schubert’s mellow Die Nacht had artful silences and rich chordal harmonies. The contrasts continued with the rowdy folksong Lamorna and a fun arrangement of I Bought Me a Cat with its complex syncopated rhythms. All these were performed unaccompanied and showcased the Signers’ minimal vibrato, well-marinated vowel sounds and jaw dropping precision.
The works for larger forces were likewise immaculate. Composer Bob Chilcott (a previous member of the Singers) demonstrated immense creativity in writing for sextet and choir in his work High Flight. Whispered accompaniment from the Consort underpinned pure solo lines from the Singers and built to a climax of bold homophonic declaration. Nico Muhly’s writing in To Stand in This House was equally innovative. It opened with a weaving countertenor duet, followed by a section free singing and spoken word accompaniment in the choir. There was opportunity in this four-movement work to hear the different timbres of the voices. One countertenor was silvery the other warm-hued but beautifully blended when in duet and when they combined with the tenor it created a delicious honeyed effect. The baritones added contained power like the purring engine of a luxury car and the bass gave a refined weight to the group.
The heart of the concert was Eric Whitacre’s The Stolen Child with its foreboding wordless choral introduction and eerie countertenor solo. It was a troubled but beautiful work with short phrases building with yearning into a climatic melody before abating.
The Consort’s performance of Perry Joyce’s Ubi Caritas, something of a signature work for the group, was one of the more heartfelt performances I’ve seen from them, sung from memory and with great eloquence.
Classics like Danny Boy and The Band Played Waltzing Matilda were immensely popular with the audience – the tunes have never sounded as sweet. A cover of Billy Joel’s And So It Goes was an encore that settled and wrapped its reverberations around the audience like a warm blanket. It was a concert which demonstrated the beauty of English choral singing, performed by two well-matched, incredibly refined ensembles.
The King’s Singers tour continues 2-4th March in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.