The King’s Singers, a six-member group from King’s College, Cambridge, came to Foellinger Great Hall on Tuesday and gave a concert called “Finding Harmony.” This event was, in their own words, an effort, “ to use their art form, singing, as a tool to find unity in a world that feels more fractured than it has for many decades.”
During the evening, there were multiple mentions, and one song, about Brexit, and some veiled allusions to a current fracture in our own political discourse.
This famous group celebrated its 50 anniversary last year, and the current members are carrying on the tradition of complex harmonic singing, uniting music from very diverse sources. The current members are Patrick Dunachie, Edward Button, Julian Gregory, Christopher Bruerton, Nick Ashby and Jonathan Howard.
In an evening of music from the Middle Ages to the present, we were guided with remarks from members of the group, some of whom could be clearly understood, and others not so well. Throughout the evening, the expressive range of the group’s singing was superb. The slow singing could be deeply moving, and their light, satiric singing was frequently electrifying.
The opening group was entitled “A Story of Harmony,” and the selections ranged from Perotinus from the 12th century to a song, “One Day,” by Michel Legrand, from the 20th century. All of the pieces in this section might be said to illustrate the finding of harmonic resolution between opposing forces.
In the section “Bringing People Together,” I found the traditional Georgian song “Tsintskaro” to be quite beautiful. This song turned up on the soundtrack of Werner Herzog’s 1979 film “Nosferatu the Vampyre.” The concluding song in this group was the famous “Cielito Lindo” by Quirino Mendoza y Cortes, which was given a comic treatment, as if the singers were a Mexican band. I would have preferred a less ironic treatment.
Freya Waley-Cohen’s “Lend Us Your Voice” was a tart and touching picture of the alienating effects of Brexit on British life, and I did get quite a few of the words, but Steve Martland’s comic child’s fable “Poor Roger” left me verbally in the dust.
The program ended with a bravura rendering of the chorus “Oh, I Can’t Sit Down,” from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” After a standing ovation, two encores followed, both with surprises. The first, “The Thanksgiving,” by Bob Chilcott (a member of the King’s Singers from 1985 to 1997) revealed the six members of the group joined by singers from the UI Chamber Singers, and together they performed splendidly this moving celebratory work. A second encore had the King’s Singers joined by the present members of the Other Guys, a subgroup of the UIUC Men’s Glee Club. Together they solemnly intoned the song “MLK” by U2, in the arrangement by Bob Chilcott. After another ovation, the six King’s Singers hefted the laptops they had been singing from and went on their “Wandering Minstrel” ways.
On Oct. 23, a group called “The Four Italian Tenors” gave a concert called “Viva Italia” in FGH. The singers were Allesandro D’Acrissa, Federico Serra, Federico Parisi and Giovanni Maria Palmia. The 20 or so selections were mainly famous Italian songs such as Salvatore Cardillo’s “Core ‘ngrato” and Ernesto de Curtis’ “Torna a Surriento.” A smaller number of famous Italian opera arias were given, such as “Una furtiva lagrima,” from Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love,” and Verdi’s “La donna e mobile,” from “Rigoletto.”
Just about every selection was sung in a segmented fashion, with individual singers taking phrases and lines from the songs and arias, and usually, all four singers joined in for the climax. I found this practice disorienting. It defeated one’s ability to hear one singer singing one song, and frankly, these songs and arias are for solo singing, not choral performance.
The collective style of the four tenors tended to emphasize loud singing, and maximum volume achieved at the final high notes. Of the four singers, I found the most successful attempt at nuanced singing came from Allesandro D’Acrissa, and the most convincing emotive force from Giovanni Maria Palmia. By the way, this group also sang “Cielito lindo,” from the heart, and got one of the stronger rounds of applause for it.
The evening ended with renditions of “Nessun dorma,” from Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot,” and Eduardo Di Capua’s “O Sole Mio,” with all the stops pulled out and with needle bending volume, all of which brought the audience members to their feet. An encore, the “Drinking Song,” from Verdi’s “La traviata,” was greeted by further cheers from the audience. The group was ably accompanied at the pianos by Fabrizio Mocata and Emanuele De Fillippis.