Monday, June 7, 2010

The King's Singers open the 2010 Israel Festival

The 2010 Israel Festival opened on May 26th with a performance of The King’s Singers(UK) at the Henry Crown Symphony Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre. No newcomers to Israeli audiences, the renowned a cappella ensemble – countertenors David Hurley and Timothy Wayne-Wright, tenor Paul Phoenix, baritones Philip Lawson and Christopher Gabbitas, and bass Stephen Connolly – have a large and varied repertoire, perform widely, have made over 150 recordings, have commissioned over 200 new works, hold master classes and have published many of their arrangements for the use of the public.

The program opened with a well-balanced selection of European Renaissance and Baroque pieces. Opening with the message of Orlando de Lassus’ (c.1532-1594) “Musica Dei donum”, The King’s Singers' superbly blended and richly colored signature sound, true in its absence of vibrato, promised for an evening of fine singing and luxuriant sounds:

‘Music, the gift of the supreme God, draws men, draws gods;
Music makes savage souls gentle and uplifts sad minds.
Music moves the very trees and wild beasts.’

Reflecting the many approaches to love, we experience a lively reading of Thomas Morley’s (1557-1602) flirtatious “Now Is The Month of Maying” and the mystery, tensions and suffering of the admirer in Spanish court composer Juan Vasquez’ (c.1500-1560) cancion “Gentil senora mia” (My gracious lady). Many of French composer Pierre Passereau’s (fl.1509-1547) surviving works are chansons of the Parisian type, popular in the 1530’s. Typically rustic in character, bristling with effects, patter and off-color humor, “Il est bel est bon” (He is handsome and fine) takes place in the market place where two women are discussing their husbands; the whimsical score includes the clucking of chickens, perhaps a reflection of the contents of the women’s conversation. Surely one highlight of the evening’s concert was The King’s Singers’ rendition of Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi’s (1567-1643) “Si ch’io vorrei morire” (Yes, I wish to die), from his Fourth Book of Madrigals (1603) to words of Maurizio Moro. Opening with a burst of silvery energy, the singers present the sensuous text with volatile Italian temperament, the timbres of their voices “orchestrating” the score in scintillating colors, their all-out emotional reading of the piece leaving the audience moved and humbled.

Franco-Flemish court composer Heinrich Isaac’s (c.1445-1517) lament “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen” (Innsbruck, I must leave you) was given a sympathetic, intimate and delicate reading. Ending the section of early music, the singers performed Thomas Weelkes’ (1756-1623) playful madrigal “As Vesta was in Latmos hill descending”, one of the 25 from the collection “The Triumphs of Oriana” (1601) dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I.

The second section of the program focused on Romantic pieces, most of which were, once again, on the subject of love. Bob Chilcott, a former member of The King’s Singers, arranged for a cappella sextet “Wenn ich in deine Augen seh’” (When I look into your eyes) from Robert Schumann’s(1810-1856) Dichterliebe cycle (1840). Poignant and expressive, with a lovely baritone solo, the poem’s end presents a bitter message to the pining admirer. The ensemble performed composer, arranger and conductor Goff Richards’ arrangement of Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) “Who is Sylvia” (Shakespeare) in English. Allotting solos to tenor and countertenor, Richards translates the piano accompaniment into delicate, light vocal staccato textures, evoking a somewhat Swingles Singers effect (Richards has arranged works for the Swingles Singers.) Another arrangement for vocal sextet from voice and piano, Gabriel Faure’s (1845-1924) “Lydia” Opus 2(words:Leconte de Lisle), offering attractive, small solos, is subtly suggestive and fluid in its sophisticated asymmetry. The words to Edward Elgar’s (1857-1934) four-part strophic “O Happy Eyes” Opus 18 were written by his wife (and piano pupil) Caroline. The singers present the song’s sweet sentimentality with sincere simplicity and transparency. This section of the program ended with a carefully paced performance of Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) evocative and meditative “Waldesnacht” (Wondrously cool woodland night) opus 62, no.3 (text: Paul Heyse).

Following the intermission, taking leave of the mostly heavy issues concerning composers and poets of the Renaissance-, Baroque- and Romantic periods, we move into lighter, less formal 20th- and 21st century genres. British composer, conductor, pianist and teacher Paul Drayton’s (b.1944) “Masterpiece” is a witty collage of composers’ names, styles and catch-words, spanning over 400 years. The King’s Singers enjoy natural, British humor and aim to see their audiences well entertained; so whether one likes such a work or not, one can not but admit that they perform it flawlessly and with effortless verve. The concert ended with “Simple Gifts” – a selection of jazz, folk- and pop songs from The King’s Singers’ recent Grammy-winning album “Simple Gifts”. Whether an elegantly presented Nat King Cole piece, complete with double bass pizzicato, Beetles songs, a velvety choral blend in Manhattan Transfer’s “Chanson d’amour” or a trippy, pure-sounding bluegrass version of “Out of the Woods”, the singers address each piece, mood and individual style in the minutest detail.

The King’s Singers bring a cappella music to a level of musicianship that takes your breath away. The singers communicate with each other and with their audiences. Their programs appeal to people of different tastes and the 2010 Israel Festival was all the richer and more joyful for their visit.

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