Richard Blackford

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Benedictus APPENZELLER (c.1480-c.1558)
Musae Jovis á 4 [5:47]
Nicolas GOMBERT (c.1495-c.1560)
Musae Jovis á 6 [5:31]
Josquin DES PREZ (c.1450/55-1521)
Salve regine [4:37]
Jacquet of MANTUA (1483-1559)
Dum vastos Adriae fluctus [7:52]
Hieronymus VINDERS (fl.1510-1550)
O mors inevitabilis [2:51]
Jean RICHAFORT (c.1480-after 1547)
Missa pro defunctis ‘Requiem’ [29:15]
Josquin DES PREZ
Nymphes, nappés [2:26]
The King’s Singers
rec. 10-12 September 2012, St. George’s Church, Chesterton, Cambridge

As far as I’m concerned, this release goes straight up against that of vocal ensemble Cinquecento on the Hyperion label, which was one of my Recordings of the Year in 2012 (see review). Not only do these two discs share the Richafort Requiem but just about every other track as well. The Hyperion disc gives us 70 minutes to Signum’s under 60, so we start at something of a disadvantage, the only works not covered by Cinquecento being the Jacquet of Mantua Dum vastos Adriae fluctus and the Josquin Salve regina.
The King’s Singers vocal sound is in general rounder and warmer than Cinquecento’s, who sing pretty much entirely without vibrato. This is not to say that King’s singing is laden with wobble, by no means, but this is an essential part of their colour and manner of projection. Which you prefer is a matter of taste of course, but I found myself liking both. If it wasn’t for the Cinquecento disc I would be endorsing this one without reservations. The King’s Singers’ reserved expression and sense of tender intimacy is clear from the outset, the programme revealing these qualities in Appenzeller’s lovely four-part Musae Jovis. What you have from this recording is more of a sense of religious devotion, characterised by the praying hands on the cover. Cinquecento give more of a ‘concert’ performance - exquisite and perfect, but reaching out and captivating you as an audience rather than giving the impression of cloistered monks performing for their own circle and to the glory of the Deity. This is a subtle and subjective impression, and the King’s Singers are no means small-scale the whole time, but with a less resonant acoustic and a generally quieter dynamic they create a deliciously personal atmosphere.
In terms of actual interpretation and performance The King’s Singers are uncontroversial, and timings do not differ to any remarkable extent between the two versions. Diving straight into the main work, Richafort’s Requiem is delivered with all of the beauty of sound and little chills of dissonance you could hope for. Where Cinquecento’s homogeneity of sound creates a marvellous ‘whole’, The King’s Singers’ more diverse vocal character creates its own moments of magic, and if you are not hooked by the remarkable tonal clashes in the opening Introitus then you may need to consider a soul transplant. These moments are given a touch of emphasis, but there is nothing mannered or artificial about the performance.
Which do I prefer? In the end my choice would be Cinquecento, but by a very close margin and by no means exclusively. With the Cinquecento performance you can lose yourself and mentally bathe in the music, allow yourself to be transported into heavenly realms, feel your earthly woes recede into insignificance. It is for this reason that I would stick with the Hyperion disc in a Richafort cook-off. If on the other hand you want to be moved by this music on a more human scale or earthly plane, then The King’s Singers hit the spot. Those voices emerging from sublime textures and tugging at the heartstrings have their own special quality, and I’ve found myself increasingly admiring the qualities of this performance the more I’ve delved into its expressive beneficence.
As you would expect, the recording is impeccable, all texts are given with English translations in the booklet, and there are useful notes by David Skinner whose scholarly contribution to this fine release is also acknowledged.
Dominy Clements

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