Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
The Queen's Six ("Q6") were established in 2008, the 450th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, from whom they take their name. Elizabeth I was a great patroness of the arts and often engaged the services of musicians to write and perform for her at court. Based at Windsor Castle, all the members of the 21st century Queen's Six are also Lay Clerks of St George's Chapel, whose homes lie within the castle walls. The Chapel Choir, which consists of boy trebles and 12 professional adult male singers, performs some eight services a week, as well as at private and state occasions, often before the royal family. This rare privilege demands the highest musical standards. Most significantly however, it is the familiarity of living and singing together every day in the Royal Chapel that lends this group its distinctive closeness and blend, as well as an irresistible informality and charm. The members of Q6 are countertenors Daniel Brittain and Timothy Carleston, tenors Nicholas Madden and Dominic Bland and baritone/basses Andrew Thompson and Simon Whiteley. While none are household names, except, perhaps, in the Royal Household, I list them because between them they have sung with Tenebrae, Polyphony, the BBC Singers, the Cardinall's Musick, Collegium Vocale Gent, the Gabrieli Consort, the King's Consort, the Tallis Scholars and the Sixteen, which collectively represents a fine CV in anyone's book. Musically the comparison with The King's Singers is inevitable, both being six male voices taken from a larger choir based in an historic setting and the brief review would be to say that if you enjoy a cappella singing as performed by The King's Singers or indeed any of the ensembles already mentioned then The Queen's Six are almost certain to appeal to you. The repertoire on this Christmas collection is wide-ranging taking us from the decidedly secular "Pastime With Good Company" by that Defender of the Faith Henry VIII through to other seasonally secular songs such as "God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen" here arranged by Simon Whitely, Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's "Let It Snow" and Keith Robert's lively arrangement of James Lord Pierpoint's "Jingle Bells". As well as the seasonal froth and merriment we also hear plenty of sacred classics, all exquisitely sung. Q6 have a perfect blend of voices, often with the bass coming through strongly. There are 25 songs spread over 72 minutes and with Sir David Willcocks being the name most spotted on the credit list, guaranteeing us a merry Christmas indeed. Highlights for this reviewer include William Byrd's "Hodie Christus Natus Est", Gustav Holst's beautiful setting of "In The Bleak Mid-Winter" and Arthur Sullivan's "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear". Chances are your favourites will be included too, perhaps in a fresh new arrangement. Equally likely you will hear something new and certainly you will appreciate the excellent singing throughout.
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