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The King's Singers - GOLD

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by John Andrew (subscribe)
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Pure Gold


It's hard to believe that the first iteration of the King's Singers bespectacled, somewhat geeky hit the big time in 1968.

Now in "Gramophone" magazine's Hall of Fame, and with over 150 recordings to their credit, they are regarded as among the finest a capella groups in the world.



When they began they had two counter-tenors, a tenor, two baritones and a bass, a line-up which they have kept (with 26 singers in 50 years). The current King's Singers, with ages ranging from 25 to 39, have clearly kept their ethos, with crystal clear diction, astonishing precision, a broad range of genres and understated showmanship.

The current counter-tenors are Timothy Wayne-Wright and Patrick Dunachie, the tenor is Julian Gregory, both baritones are Christophers Gabbitas and Bruerton and the bass is Jonathan Howard. No longer exclusively from King's College, their backgrounds are Oxbridge, The Royal Academy of Music and Trinity College of Music.

The audience gave them an exultant welcome, as they walked on in matching suits and carrying I-Pads.

From the opening chords of "The prayer of Henry VI" it was clear that we were not going to be disappointed.

As Alexandra Coghlan's review in "The Gramophone" says what hits you first and leaves you last . is the astonishing, exhilarating musicianship of these singers. You may or may not enjoy the group's signature sound, with its diffuse bass warmth and blowsy top line (which has miraculously survived the departure of longstanding countertenor David Hurley), but there's no arguing with tuning that electrifies even the simplest of chords, or with a vocal blend that turns cluster chords into gauzy clouds of colour.

Your reviewer cannot think of any other group whose reputation has lasted so long and so well. The sheer infectious joy in superlative music making is still evident a joy that entrances an audience, clearly spell-bound by the beauty and the skill of what they are hearing.

For the first half of the concert, the emphasis was very strongly on showcasing their mastery of a wide range of classical music and I suspect that there would have been a wide diversity of "stand-outs" mine were William Byrd's "Sing Joyfully" and Arvo Part's "Bogoroditse Djevo".

The absolute silence during, and the rapturous applause after each piece told the story of an audience engaged in appreciation of glorious musicianship.

After the interval, they sang a piece by a former King's singer, Bob Chilcott and then a meditation by Poulenc. The iPads were put away, as were the music stands and we settled in for the more light-hearted side of the King's Singers.



I wondered when they began Eric Bogle's "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" whether their complex and precise style would "work" for this rather rough-edged song. For me, it did.

And, given the applause at the end of the show generated no less than five encores, the whole concert "worked" for the capacity audience at the Brisbane "Con".

After a Greek children's song, with animal noises and actions, the King's Singers picked up their iPads and walked off stage for one last time.

We were privileged to have heard their 50th Anniversary Concert. May they and we have many more.

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When: 2nd March
Where: Conservatorium Theatre, Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, South Bank
Cost: $89
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