"Great Space" Welcomes King's Singers
Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Feb 17, 2013 - 11:10:18 PM in
The King's Singers
(first published in the Cincinnati Enquirer Feb. 13, 2013)
The King’s Singers played St. Peter in Chains Cathedral like an instrument Tuesday night.
The six-voice ensemble, founded at King’s College Cambridge in England in 1968, is known for the purity and precision of their singing, qualities that were right at home in the Cathedral’s warm, reverberant acoustic.
With a mixed program of sacred and secular, it was truly “Great Music in a Great Space” (as the Cathedral music series is called).
The first half was built upon the Lord’s Prayer, with selections from the Singers’ 2012 CD, “Pater Noster.” Each work was preceded by a different version of the Lord’s Prayer and expanded on a phrase of the text. Composers included Heinrich Schütz, William Byrd, Igor Stravinsky, Francis Poulenc, John Tavener and Leonard Bernstein. Presentations in Gregorian chant (“Pater Noster”) were heard at the beginning and end of the first half.
The ensemble brought wonderful nuance and shading to the texts and whether singing in Latin, German, French, English, Spanish or Catalan, their diction was crisp and precise. “Our Father who art in heaven,” the first phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, was illustrated by baroque composer Heinrich Schütz’ setting of Psalm 19, “Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes” (“The heavens declare the glory of God”), where the Singers’ crisp, clean, vibrato-less articulation was a joy to hear. Another gem was 20th-century English composer William Harris’ “Holy is the True Light,” illustrating “Hallowed be thy name,” which the ensemble concluded with a soft, ethereal “Alleluia.”
English Renaissance master William Byrd’s “Vigilate” (“Watch ye”), illustrating “Thy kingdom come, they will be done” received a vivid interpretation, with emphasis on the words “omnibus dico” (“I say unto you”). Stravinsky’s simple, neo-classical “Pater Noster” prefaced Francis Poulenc’s “Quatre Petites Prières de Saint François d’Assise,” a touching set of prayers by St. Francis of Assisi, expanding on “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Tenor Paul Phoenix’ sublime “Pater Noster” by Bernstein (from his 1971 Mass) ended with a gently ringing final consonant on “Amen.” The ensemble brought the first half to a close with 16th-century Flemish composer Orlandus Lassus’ “Ad te levavi” (“Unto You I lift up my eyes”) where their laser-bright tones conjured the voices of angels.
Catalonian folk songs and King’s Singers favorites made up the second half. From David Hurley’s distinctive countertenor to Jonathan Howard’s bass, with all shades in between, it was a set filled with charm and merriment, including the Catalan carols “El niño querido” (“The Beloved Child”) and “Villançico Catalan,” about peasants harvesting fruit for the baby Jesus.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, the group offered Rogers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine” -- they are working on an album of songs from the great American songbook, bass Howard said – then “Greensleeves,” “You are the New Day” and the spiritual “Little David, Play on Your Harp.” The audience saluted them with cheers and a standing ovation, prompting an encore, the Shaker hymn “Tis a Gift to Be Simple.” Sales of the Singers’ CDs were brisk during intermission and after the concert, which was followed by a reception in the parish house for the popular visitors.