Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
Having sailed past their 50th anniversary in style (see 2017's 'Gold' triple CD set as evidence) the King's Singers just keep on giving. Over the years the singers have changed but the formula remains the same: two countertenors, one tenor, two baritones and a bass singing in close harmony, usually unaccompanied. On this, their first release of 2020, the singers wanted to distil what it was that really motivated them to do what they do, and to do it well. In their own words they tell us that "Finding harmony was the answer, as in so many different ways, it summarises what is most valuable in what we do. From late 2019 and beyond, finding harmony will lie at the heart of what our activities - from our artistic plans and programming, through specific projects planned through our charities, to educational work and commissioning. The idea of finding harmony will lie at the centre. In reality, it always has done, but right now more than ever, it feels like we should talk about it." The album of the same name shows how singing has bound people together in many different contexts and throughout our history so we travel in time from the European Reformation with Bach's famous arrangement of Martin Luther's "Ein Feste Burg" ("A Mighty Fortress") through to the US civil rights movement of the last century with Stacey V Gibbs' arrangement of Abel Meeropol's haunting "Strange Fruit" as made famous by Billie Holiday. Much of the programme is sacred with a good example being William Byrd's "Ne Irascaris, Domine - Civitas Sancti Tui", a thinly veiled plea for toleration of Roman Catholicism under Queen Elizabeth I. Another piece written during a time of almost unimaginable persecution is "S'Dremlen Feygi" ("Birds are snoozing in the branches") written in 1943 by Leyb Yampolski and Leah Rudnicki about the Nazi-established ghetto in Vilna in Lithuania. The arrangement here is by Toby Young (born 1990), one of whose grandmothers was herself a holocaust survivor. So many stories, so much to hear. One standout amongst many for this reviewer was James MacMillan's beautiful arrangement of John Cameron's Gaelic "O, Chi, Chi Mi Na Morbheanna" expressing the longing of an exiled highlander for the "misty mountains", "blue grassy hills" and the language he cherished. One does not have to have sympathy for the SNP to be moved by this and perhaps that is the guiding spirit behind this collection: to see the other point of view and to look for what binds us together. With 19 songs across almost 70 minutes of superlative singing this is a thoroughly recommended collection.
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