Monday, 19 December 2011


Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (17 December 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 19 December 2011 with the title "King's Singers' a right royal show".

Even before a single note of music was sung, The King’s Singers was greeted with a storm of applause that would customarily take place after a concert, not before. Such was the reputation that preceded the six-man outfit, formed in 1968 as students at King’s College, Cambridge. The singers are, of course, a different group now but the immaculate ensemble and that infectious sense of humour and fun are steadfastly retained.

Much of its Christmas programme consisted of arrangements, transcribed for its unusual combo of two countertenors, one tenor, two baritones and one bass. Neatly packaged in groups of four or five songs, it began with ancient songs of Christmas Past. Veni, Veni Emmanuel opened with voices unison as in its original form of plainchant, and then it split into six parts.

The glory of polyphony pleases the ear with its myriad shifts and variations of harmonies, and with voices ringing as clearly as bells, the effect was magical. Whether it was in German (Est ist ein Ros’entsprungen), French (Noël nouvelet), Spanish (Oyd, Oyd, Una Cosa) or Catalan (El ni ño querido), the ensemble was magnificent in its intonation and unity, joyfully communicating the essence of the festive season.

Forget all those faux versions of the syncopated Dutch carol Gaudete, Brian Kay’s arrangement made it sound less corny that what most are accustomed to. And shame on whoever’s errant cell phone that competed with countertenor David Hurley’s wonderful solo in Francisco Guerrero’s Virgen Sancta at its quietest point, almost ruining the special moment.

Christmas Present showcased more contemporary fare, but rooted in the anthems of old. Some of the Singers themselves had composed their own original pieces, both baritones Philip Lawson’s Lullay My Liking and Christopher Gabbitas’s Mary’s Lullaby were given the most personal and loving of touches.

The jive in the African-American spiritual Rise Up, Shepherd, And Follow was expressed like true soul brothers, and Geoff Keating’s arrangement of God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen in the manner of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five rejoiced in its unmistakeable ostinatos.

If there was a song that summed up the evening’s enjoyable fare, it was Peter Knight’s transcription of Mel Torme’s classic Christmas Song. The wistful solos and chorus evoked true nostalgia, and probably not a few teary eyes.

Just as three more carols were sung – Stille Nacht (Silent Night in its original German), Jingle Bells and Deck The Halls – tenor Paul Phoenix pondered aloud as what to do next. A female voice from the Circle cried out, “Marry Me!”, to which he unhesitatingly replied, “OK, then.” Promises, promises…

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