From the sublime to the down-to-earth, from the sacred to the sentimental, the King’s Singers encompassed an extraordinarily wide musical range in their sold-out performance Saturday night at Town Hall, under the auspices of the Early Music Guild.
Unusually, the sublime and sacred first half was shared between Renaissance composers and the 20th century’s Durufle, alternating from one to the other with each piece. The whole was titled “In Memoriam Josquin des Prez.” Josquin, a famous and innovative 15th century composer, aimed for perfection and, in tribute, many other composers followed in his footsteps, including Jean Richafort, some of whose “Missa pro defunctis” made up a large part of this section of Saturday’s program.
Between each section of the mass came one of Durufle’s “Quatre Motets sur les chants Gregoriens.”
One would think this would make for a disjointed performance, but far from it.
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It became fascinating to hear how the two works, five centuries apart, meshed so completely despite the different harmonic styles, particularly in the similar moods engendered by the music. Perhaps, sung by other groups, this could not have been achieved so smoothly, but here the six singers brought their accumulated musical sense to a high degree of understanding, uplifted by impeccable performance.
The King’s Singers as a group has been around for 45 years, but only one of the performers, countertenor David Hurley, has been with the group more than 20 years and most of them have been with it less than ten. Yet the same exquisite — there’s no other word for it — balance between the voices, the apparently effortless voice production, the tonal quality, the phrasing, the breathing, the synchronization of not just voices but ideas and approach, is there as it has always been. And this on a tour with 19 performances in 25 days all over this country with Seattle not far from the end. Of course many of them have been singing in public since their childhoods as cathedral choristers, where the training is complete and voices protected from strain.
Among the most beautiful parts were Richafort’s serene “Requiem aeternam” and Durufle’s “Notre Pere,” but the contrasts between, for instance, the brief, vigorous “Tu es Petrus” of Durufle and the prayerful “Graduale” of Richafort, gave it unexpected colors.
For the concert’s second half, the singers turned to Renaissance South America, with lively songs by Juan Gutierrez de Padilla and Mateo Flecha, one with make-believe instruments and the latter the evocation of a shipwreck and the sailors’ reactions, all of this with individual gestures and expression.
The capacity audience was not about to let them go after this, and the group obliged with an extremely funny overview of composers from Bach to Cage by Paul Drayton, and three songs from their new American Song Book album which they have been performing in many of their other concerts on this tour, Irving Berlin’s “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” and Cole Porter’s “Let’s Misbehave” and “Every Time we say Goodbye.”
In the first half, the singers’ personalities were sublimated to the music. In the second half, their individuality blossomed, sometimes outrageously, to the great enjoyment of the audience. But none of that would have been nearly so amusing had we not heard the sublime part first.
The King’s Singers will be back December 8 at Benaroya Hall. Better get tickets now.