The King's Singers in Koerner Hall
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON December 11th 2016
We are indeed fortunate to be living in a city where there is such a plethora of opportunities to celebrate the holiday season with music. Every musical organization, professional and amateur, provides for the insatiable appetite of the music-loving public at this time of year. And so it comes as no surprise that the Royal Conservatory of Music’s concert season would present its own festive event.
The King’s Singers came to town yesterday in what is quickly becoming a regular appearance at Koerner Hall as part of the Royal Conservatory’s Vocal Concert Series sponsored by Classical 96.3 FM and an anonymous donor. Yesterday’s concert was supported additionally by the Cheng Family Foundation. The King’s Singers are currently on a North American Christmas tour promoting their new CD, The King’s Singers Christmas Songbook.
The programme delivered all the Christmas sentiment and holiday cheer that one could imagine. The acapella group provided a combination of early English cathedral music, carols arranged by contemporary composers for the six voice ensemble, and Hollywood Christmas gems in the style of Michael Bublé and Bing Crosby
The group began with the unison of the Latin Renaissance antiphon Veni, Veni Emmanuel arranged by Philip Lawson, and continued with Resonet in laudibus by Orlando Lassus. These two selections set a solemn tone of serene and mystical beauty with precise intonation, clear lines and an impeccable vocal blend. For a moment, we could reflect on the spiritual nature of the season. The reading of the poem Christmas by John Betcheman added to the sentiment with the final stanza:
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine!
The traditional music of Christmas continued through the first half with beautifully arranged carols such as In the Bleak Mid-winter, Carol of the Bells, and Ding Dong Merrily on High. A reading from The Diary of an Unknown Soldier depicted Christmas in the trenches of WWI when the English and German soldiers began singing carols together. It gave new meaning to the carol that followed, Stille Nacht (Silent Night).
The second half of the programme changed the mood abruptly. Instead of a reflective Christmas, it became one of jolly celebration. The music of Leroy Anderson and Irving Berlin, led the way with Sleigh Ride and Winter Wonderland. A comical moment came in the reading of the Ogden Nash poem The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Clause, a poem worth reading to any unbelieving children on Christmas Eve. More arrangements of familiar Christmas classics with both jazz rhythms and close barbershop harmonies followed and left the audience roaring their approval.
Each member of the King’s Singers has a voice of exceptional quality, but the magic of the ensemble comes from the ability to temper the singers’ vibrato and tone colour to the needs of each style of music they sing. Since they were founded close to fifty years ago and with each new generation of singers, they have found ways to enthuse their audiences with the authenticity of a diverse range of musical styles.
This audience certainly appreciated and was moved by the meditative journey in the first half of the programme, but clearly was ready to get on with the secular celebration that has come to be the central focus of Christmas in the 21st century.
Toronto Concert Reviews will be reviewing Handel’s Messiah by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir in Koerner Hall at 7:30pm on Thursday December 15th 2016 as well as The Toronto Symphony with The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in Roy Thomson Hall at 3pm on Sunday December 18th 2016..
THE KING’S SINGERS serves up a heaping helping of Christmas!
Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto and beyond!
- symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music -