The King’s Singers:
Madrigals & Songs from the Renaissance Warner Classics S h 9029 57028-2
The Complete RCA Recordings RCA Red Seal S k 8898 547018-2
Edward Breen listens to two complementary collections from the UK’s favourite a cappella group
When two choral scholars from the famous choir of King’s College, Cambridge formed an ensemble to perform secular music they could hardly have foreseen a half-century of world-class music-making. From the very start this ensemble consisted of two countertenors, one tenor, two baritones and a bass: a cluster of lower sonorities characterising a smooth, rich sound and underpinning their skillful falsettists. The King’s Singers, as they became in 1968, were among the early music vanguard, that critical mass of ensembles who convinced us of alternatives to the prevailing styles. Certainly The King’s Singers began to reimagine an early music sound from the earliest disc in this Warner Classics collection, their 1974 album ‘English and Italian Madrigals’.
The album I consider to be the absolute essential King’s Singers disc opens this collection: ‘Good Vibrations’ (1992). If you first listened to the madrigals and marvelled at their delicacy, nothing you will find will prepare you for the astonishing difference in this tribute to favourite pop songs. The sound is undeniably the same, as is the cheeky enjoyment of music-making and communication, but a spotlight has moved towards harmony and style. ‘Good Vibrations’ was the album of a lifetime, an outstanding achievement resting not only on the performances but also the arrangements: reharmonisation offering new contexts and complexities to familiar songs.
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