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The King's Singers


For a very formal, very British ensemble, The King’s Singers do sumptuous justice to the Great American Songbook – the title of a recent recording, and the theme of their Adelaide Cabaret Festival performance on Friday night.

The six men – two extraordinary counter-tenors, a tenor, two baritones and a bass – don’t muck around with too much flashy stagecraft. The music, the arrangements, the seamless melding of voices is what they’re all about.

Dressed impeccably in the Singers’ trademark three-piece suits, the group wasted little time with between-song banter, instead moving through a lovely collection of American classics by the likes of Harold Arlen, Gershwin and Jerome Kern.

The King’s Singers have been dabbling in classic and pop songs since they emerged from King’s College, Cambridge, in the late 1960s, but the modern canon is usually a break from the more traditional forms of the cathedral tradition. (I remember an early ’80s concert at the Festival Theatre, when several current members wouldn’t have been born, where Randy Newman’s “Short People” provided the pop contrast to madrigals and sacred music.)

In this concert, the repertoire was wall-to-wall mellifluous, chocolate-smooth American classics, and light bossa nova swayers – and they did it with pristine musical class. The arrangement were restrained and crafted beautifully; the mix of voices a rare treat, ranging from the bell-like countertenors, to a solid bass, with a couple of excellent tenor-baritones in between.

A peppy “Get Happy” moved into two swooners that set the theme for the night – “World on a String” and “Love is Here to Stay”.

Then came the highlight – a sumptuous bracket of Cole Porter tunes. “Under My Skin”, “Begin the Beguine”, a beautiful “Night and Day”, and a 1920s, all-dancing “Let’s Misbehave”.

These older tunes suited the Singers perfectly, both musically and temperamentally, given the lads seem almost out of time.

Against the spirit of the age, they do not do flashy, unrestrained or crude (no fear of these boys breaking incoming Cabaret Festival director Barry Humphries’ edict against the F-word).

Their idea of a big finish is a tastefully soaring version of “My Funny Valentine”, and a just-jaunty-enough “Lady is a Tramp” (with gently modernised words in one verse).

It was a nostalgic evening, not only because of the wonderful old tunes, but because of the musical honesty and restraint which allowed the songs to speak for themselves.

The only disappointment was the large number of empty seats. The quality of the show deserved more.

The King’s Singers performed as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which finished on the weekend. See all InDaily’s reviews at the 2014 Adelaide Cabaret Festival hub.



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