Review: Long Live the King's Singers!

What a wonderful sight! St Mary’s Church was packed to the gills, even more impressively with a complete range of ages, all craning their heads to get the first glimpse of a truly world-famous a cappella singing group: the King’s Singers! Another splendid coup for Jill Elsworthy and the Horsham Music Circle, and what a way to kick-start their 2024 Spring series of concerts! writes Jane Thomas.
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It’s not just their singing, which is of course quite astonishingly polished, but their whole attitude to music-making which marks them out as the ‘gold-standard’ vocal sextet which they undoubtedly are. Whatever they are singing, be it the beautiful Plainchant version of ‘Come Holy Ghost’, or the delightfully witty 21st century riffing on Jocelyn Pook’s ‘Mobile’, their versatility is equally astonishing, and they communicate their own sense of enjoyment effortlessly to the enrapt audience.

This programme was created especially to mark the accession of King Charles 111, and the music was carefully chosen to showcase the great British choral music emerging from the pageantry and ceremony of the British monarchy. The first half was divided into sections, each explained by a different member of the group, with a perfect blend of information and informality. Thus we were treated to a trio of Renaissance paeans to Oriana – aka Elizabeth 1 – with a particularly enjoyable upbeat number from Michael East; followed by sections on the coronation, life, and the funeral of our late queen, Elizabeth 11. We heard Vaughan Williams’ lovely ‘O taste and see’, specially commissioned works by Howard Goodall and Judith Weir, and a splendid selection from the recent coronation of Charles 111 – the first King in the life of the King’s Singers – comprising plainchant, Paul Mealor and Weelkes.

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After the interval and the National Anthem, dexterously arranged by baritone Christopher Bruerton, we were treated to a fantastic whirl through the British monarchy in Paul Drayton’s brilliant ‘A Rough Guide to the Royal Succession’. This was enormous fun, and sung with such enjoyment and elan that one might be unaware of the vocal complexity and extraordinary feats of tonal ingenuity required for its performance. This, as with the Pook and Goodall compositions, was written specifically for the King’s Singers, and played to all their strengths and unmatched abilities as a vocal team.

The world-famous a cappella  group The King's Singers perform for Horsham Music CircleThe world-famous a cappella  group The King's Singers perform for Horsham Music Circle
The world-famous a cappella group The King's Singers perform for Horsham Music Circle

Then we relaxed still further; iPads were discarded, and after a lovely close-harmony gospel number, they swung into four well-known songs inspired by 100 Years of Disney. An impressively bilingual ‘Remember Me’ from ‘Coco’, a hugely-popular ‘Bare Necessities’ - featuring wonderful bass Jonathan Howard, some great characterisation in ‘The Lion King’, and a terrific ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ as the triumphant finale. Only of course it wasn’t; the tumultuous applause - amplified by the first stamping feet I’ve ever heard in St Mary’s! – necessitated an encore – a peaceful and utterly lovely rendition of ‘O Danny Boy’. Truly a memorable concert, and many thanks to the HMC and to a legacy from the estate of former HMC members Margaret and Tony Smith for enabling us to enjoy an evening we won’t forget with the legendary King’s Singers.

Review by Jane Thomas 28.01.24