Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
The redoubtable King's Singers are back with another Christmas collection and while there are some familiar titles on the track listing everything has been given a new arrangement to keep it sounding fresh. The current singers looked back into the KS archive to discover what worked then and might still work today. It was the 2003 'Christmas' collection that resonated, with its intimate, acoustic live feel and with the 2020 concert schedule in tatters the six were able to decamp to Wells and have time and space to do what they do best: sing. The 2021 Christmas collection of 25 songs, touchingly dedicated to the late Sir Stephen Cleobury of 'Carols From King's' fame, covers everything from contemporary choral gems and folk songs through to well-loved carols. Dotted throughout the album are several of the most famous English church carols, which take The King's Singers right back to their earliest singing days, and which also reflect the group's heritage at King's College, Cambridge. On first listen I thoroughly enjoyed the eclectic programme but second time through I found it somewhat discombobulating with the moves from traditional to contemporary and English to other languages. On reflection, I think the problem was with me and not the album so we will consider this eclecticism to be a strength and not a weakness. Standouts include "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" in Patrick Dunachie's adaptation of Ralph Vaughan Williams' arrangement for the traditionally minded, John Tavener's numinous "O, Do Not Move" for the contemporary side, Bach's "Brich An, O Schones Morgenlicht" ("Break, O Beautiful Morning Light") for the classicists, and Christopher Brueton's arrangement of Berlioz's "L'adieu Des Bergers" ("The Shepherd's Farewell") for the foreign language songs. And yes, the pedant in me knows that the Bach is sung in German and the Berlioz could and should be considered a classic so perhaps my somewhat arbitrary classifications should be forgotten and we should sit back and enjoy the music. As ever, The King's Singers have their usual combination of two countertenors, a tenor, two baritones and a bass. The six voices blend as only King's Singers can, all the arrangements are appropriate, and the a cappella singing is a joy throughout. For many, Christmas really starts with 'Carols From King's' and they are not wrong and The King's Singers in their own unique style are well on the way to becoming part of this listener's Christmas celebrations.
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