The King's Singers
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Sacred Vocal Music - Released March 11, 2013 | Signum Records
Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 4 étoiles Classica
The centerpiece of this 2013 release by the King's Singers is the austere but sublime Requiem in Memoriam Josquin Desprez by Jean Richafort, a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance era who probably studied at some point with Josquin, and who frequently used fragments of the master's music in musical tributes to him. Richafort's work is put in historical and stylistic context with an assortment of motets by his contemporaries, Benedictus Appenzeller, Nicolas Gombert, Jacquet of Mantua, Hieronymus Vinders, along with two examples of Josquin's music, a Salve regina and a secular piece, Nymphes, nappés. The King's Singers' unaccompanied voices unify the diverse selctions through their smooth lines and resonant ensemble blend, though the distinct qualities of the different composers come through clearly enough. The intricacy of Josquin's counterpoint and the nuances of his harmonies put his two examples above the rest, though it's easy to understand how the other composers aspired to his achievements and derived their own expressive mannerisms and inflections from his music. Signum's reproduction is clean and open, with responsive acoustics that give the King's Singers a transparent sound.
Classical - Released January 5, 2006 | Signum Records
The King's Singers, a English a cappella sextet with a long history of iconoclasm, exceed even their own previous exploits with this recording of Thomas Tallis' 40-part motet Spem in alium. This is a CD single, including the Tallis work and an interview with the singers in which they discuss not only the obvious questions that arise -- how did they sing 40-part music with six voices? -- but also some less obvious ones: wouldn't it have been easier if Tallis' work had had 42 voices? (Tallis' 40 parts are divided into eight choirs of five.) The answer to the first question is simple for any pop listener but represents a new thing in the classical world: they use multitracking. How does it work? Spem in alium sounds completely different here from the usual effect it makes with 40 singers, or some multiple of 40, holding forth in a cathedral. The points where these tectonic plates of sound grind against each other come into much sharper relief in this close-up studio setting, and the palette of dissonances that Tallis must have heard in his head is suddenly revealed. The polyphonic structure of the work in general is clarified immeasurably; in ordinary performances, the ear must be carefully focused to pick out details from the large mass of sound. On the other hand, a perhaps less desirable effect is that the text enunciations of the individual voices are heard more clearly here as well. Text consonants that get lost in a larger space here are heard as a constant chatter, rather like background conversation at a crowded party. It's worth noting that Spem in alium was a freakish piece to begin with, a sort of game of one-upsmanship being played by Tallis and an Italian composer who wrote a similar piece. One likes to think that Tallis would have approved of further experimentation with it. At any rate, the King's Singers make it clear in the interview that they don't think of this as a definitive Spem in alium. It is however, an intriguing sound extravaganza built on a piece that was a sound extravaganza in the first place. The sound is gorgeous on an ordinary stereo, and owners of such can only dream of the splendors that await those able to reproduce the SACD surround sound on the disc.
Classical - Released March 31, 2008 | Signum Records
The quintessentially English King's Singers have recorded prolifically and are approaching a catalog landmark of 100 album releases. Three box sets of five albums apiece are on the market, all with titles suggesting they represent best-of selections from among the group's repertoire. In no case is this so; all the boxes are simply repackagings of extant releases, each representing the group's work on a different label. Signum's The King's Singers Collection, representing music recorded between 2004 and 2006, is the best introduction to this a cappella group's activities. All five CDs come with their original booklet notes, which have always been a strong point with this group, and in general the set reveals an ensemble that continues across consistent personnel changes to bring new perspectives to familiar music, both classical and pop. The buyer expecting five full-length CDs should be apprised that one disc, a multi-tracked rendition of Thomas Tallis' 40-part motet Spem in alium, is a CD single; another, Six, is an EP containing five famous pop songs and one original composition. The three full-length discs reveal the group's strengths as programmers, which include timeliness: the 1605 Treason & Dischord disc appeared close to the release of the hit film V for Vendetta and a book by highly readable British pop historian Antonia Fraser about the Gunpowder Plot, setting the extremely relevant music of William Byrd against that background. The Landscape & Time disc offers contemporary pieces, several newly commissioned, that take physical landscape as a theme, and the group's essentially sensuous sound dovetails beautifully with this concept. Of the various labels that have recorded the King's Singers, the sharp brilliance imparted to their singing by Signum seems most in accord with their aims. The general listener in search of a basic King's Singers box may prefer EMI's The King's Singers Collection, but fans of the group who have missed their current releases will be satisfied by this survey of them.
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