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The King’s Singers Live at the BBC Proms
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Six items from “Chansons Françaises” Op. 130 [10:57]
John McCABE (b.1939)
Scenes in America Deserta [14:11]
Orlande de LASSUS (c.1530/2-1594)
Dessus le marché d’Arras [1:28]; Toutes les nuitz [3:00]
Pierre PASSEREAU (fl. 1509-1547)
Il est bel et bon
(c. 1485- after 1558)
La Guerre [7:11]
John ROGERS (1780-1847)
Hears not my Phyllis [2:47]
John William HOBBS (1799-1877)
Phillis is my only joy [1:49]
Sir Frederick BRIDGE (1844-1924)
The Goslings [2:47]
Trad. arr. S.E. LOVATT
The Little Green Lane [2:05]
Trad. arr. Bob CHILCOTT (b. 1955) Greensleeves [3:11]
Trad. arr. Gordon LANGFORD (b.1930)
Blow away the morning dew [1:56]; Widdicombe Fair [3:42]
Trad. arr. Phillip LAWSON (b. 1957)
The Turtle Dove [3:30]
Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
The long day closes [4:22]
The King’s Singers (David Hurley and Robin Tyson (counter-tenors); Paul Phoenix (tenor); Philip Lawson and Christopher Gabbitas (baritones); Stephen Connolly (bass)); rec. live, Royal Albert Hall, 5 August 2008


Experience Classicsonline

It was appropriate that in their fortieth year the King’s Singers should have been invited to give a celebratory concert as part of the 2008 Proms. It is also understandable that Signum, their current recording company, should make this CD available as a permanent souvenir of the occasion. I understand that it can also be had as a DVD but my comments are based solely on this CD. Obviously for those who were there and for confirmed fans of the group this is an essential purchase in one of its forms. Others may regret that the presentation of the disc is very much concentrated on being a souvenir rather than as a concert to be listened to at home.

I have no objection to live concert recordings as such; indeed my collection has a very high proportion of them. There is nonetheless a particular problem when much of the concert consists of short and very short items. When they are separated by both loud and long applause and brief spoken introductions, as most are here, these interruptions can cause fatal harm to the music itself. This is especially the case with the Poulenc songs, where the actual music seems almost subservient. I am sure that in the Hall the introductions will have been positively welcome, but surely most listeners will not want to hear the same summary of the text of the songs on repeated listenings. It would have been much better to have included the texts and translations in the booklet, whose notes repeat much of the spoken information but say nothing about “The Long Day Closes”. Presumably this is because the notes are based on those in the concert programme, and as this item was an encore it was not mentioned there. Admittedly the introductions are included at the end of the preceding item on the CD, so that you could simply go to the next track and thus omit at least part of the both applause and introduction, but the effort of quickly using the remote control at the end of each piece of music does tend to spoil the listener’s enjoyment. 

You may be thinking by now that I should pay more attention to the substance of the music-making, and less to its presentation. This is true, although I do find it difficult to separate them when listening to a CD such as this. There is at least one real winner here – John McCabe’s “Scenes in America Deserta”. It was written for the King’s Singers in 1986 and is a setting of words and phrases from a book by the architectural historian Peter Reyner Banham. Each of its clearly defined sections evokes a distinct scene, and as a whole the work makes formidable demands on the singers which they meet with virtuosity and sensitivity. Enjoyment would have been substantially increased if the texts had been included. I cannot believe that the composer took such obvious trouble in choosing and setting such unlikely texts only to expect the listener to make do with a mere brief and generalised summary of them. This is still however a piece that is very well worth hearing, and, for me at least, would be the main reason for acquiring the disc. 

The Poulenc folksongs are sung with similar care, but here and in the Renaissance chansons I find the performances fussy and overdone. The King’s Singers are above all interventionist performers, seldom content to let the music speak for itself. Excessive speed, funny voices and exaggerated phrasing – all in evidence here - may be appropriate on occasion but tend to draw attention to the performers and to the moment rather than its context. The set of Victorian part-songs and “The Long Day Closes” at the end of the disc, are less affected by these tendencies and gain greatly as a result even if the humour of “The goslings” seems less and less funny on each hearing. Humour and taste are indeed very personal things, and I must confess that I find the various British folksong arrangements unbearably cosy and cute, although they certainly do suit the Singers’ performance style very well. 

Confirmed fans of the performers will want this in any event, although the DVD may well be even more to their taste. Others may be more wary, especially given the unhelpful presentation, but I would urge you that you might find it worth buying for the John McCabe item alone.

John Sheppard

see also Review by Simon Thompson 


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