The King's Singers: Finding Harmony (CD review)

The King's Singers. Signum Classics SIGCD607.

Since their formation in 1968, the British a cappella vocal group The King's Singers have made dozens of albums, essayed many different musical styles, and gone through numerous personnel changes. The results have been uniformly the same: excellent.

They are named after King's College, Cambridge, where the group was formed by six choral scholars. The vocal lineup, which came about quite by chance, consists of two countertenors, a tenor, a baritone and two basses, today those voices belonging to Patrick Dunachie, Edward Button, Julian Gregory, Christopher Bruerton, Nick Ashby, and Jonathan Howard. Although there have been about thirty individual singers moving in and out to make up the group over the years, they have always displayed the same degree of enthusiasm and technical prowess. Thus, while the 2020 makeup of The King's Singers may sound slightly different and be recorded slightly differently than their 1968 counterparts, they are, for all practical purposes, the same group.

Of course, each of their many albums highlights a fresh theme, the current one, Finding Harmony, emphasizing "particular songs from throughout history, which have either brought communities together behind a common cause or helped to give identity to people whose culture or language have been threatened in some way. The album looks at different episodes from around the world where singing together has played a key part in the course of history or continues to shape it today." As the group says, it's "a mission we have, to use our art form--singing--as a tool to find unity in a world which is more divided than it has been for a long time."

Here's a rundown on the selections:

  1. "One Day" (Michel Legrand; arr. Richard Rodney Bennett)
  2. "If I Can Help Somebody" (Alma Androzzo; arr. Stacey V. Gibbs)
  3. "S'Dremlen feygl" (Leyb Yampolsky & Lea Rudnick; arr. Toby Young)
  4. "Tsintskaro" (traditional)
  5. "Bread and Roses" (James Oppenheim & Mimi Farina; arr. Rebecca Dale)
  6. "Heliseb väljadel" (Urmas Sisask)
  7. "Mu isamaa on minu arm" (Gustav Ernesaks)
  8. "Cielito lindo" (Quirino Mendoza y Cortés; arr. Jorge Cózatl)
  9. "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," (Martin Luther; arr. Johann Sebastian Bach)
10. "Ne irascaris, Domine – Civitas sancti tui" (William Byrd)
11. "Praying" (Kesha; arr. Rebecca Dale)
12. "Puirt a' bheul (Mouth Music) (traditional; arr. Daryl Runswick)
13. "O, chì, chì mi na mòrbheanna" (John Cameron; arr. James MacMillan)
14. "Shen khar venakhi" (traditional, King Demetrius I of Georgia)
15. "Ayihlome/Qula kwedini (traditional; arr. Neo Muyanga)
16. "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika (Enoch Sontonga; arr. Neo Muyanga)
17. "One Last Time" (Ariana Grande; arr. Richard Wilberforce)
18. "Strange Fruit" (Abel Meeropol; arr. Stacey V. Gibbs)
19. "This Little Light of Mine" (Harry Dixon Loes; arr. Stacey V. Gibbs)

The King's Singers
I've been listening to albums by The King's Singers for about as long as they have been in existence, and they never fail to satisfy with their professionalism, vocal skills, and harmonic unity. They are really quite remarkable. On the present album they sing songs from all over the world in a number of different languages and seem comfortable with all of it. The songs are mostly sweet and peaceful, promoting the idea of international harmony through music. The group's voices intertwine so flawlessly, so comfortably, it's hard to imagine anyone not admiring them and the songs. It's also hard to imagine these folks singing without any instrumentation behind them; they are practically a one-man band. Listen to "Cielito lindo" as an example. As I say: flawless.

There are good booklet notes on each of the songs, too, adding to one's pleasure. The packaging, though, is not so great. I suppose as a cost-saving device Signum Classics chose to eschew a traditional plastic jewel box for a fold-over cardboard case. The cardboard affair affords a sleeve on each side of the fold, one for the disc and one for the booklet. Unfortunately, the only way to remove the disc is either to shake it out into your hand, in which case it means it's rather loosely enclosed and could just as easily fall out, or to grab it by your fingertips, thereby ensuring the possibility of getting fingerprints on it. In any case, I quibble.

Producers Nick Parker and Nigel Short and engineer Mike Hatch recorded the songs at St. Augustine's Church, Kilburn, London in June 2019. The church setting gives the group a pleasantly resonant, ambient bloom. The stereo spread is quite wide, so that each of the six singers spread evenly across the speakers and slightly beyond. The voices are clear and warm, never bright or edgy. The group is perhaps a tad too closely miked to be entirely realistic compared to a live performance, unless you were standing on stage in front of them. Still, the close-up perspective is effective enough to make the listening experience satisfying.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

1 comment:

  1. John—Thanks for this tip. I'll be ordering two copies; daughter Carla will want one too.



Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa