Review: The King’s Singers

Is it ever possible to be too perfect?

The King’s Singers, the six-man vocal ensemble from Britain, is on the tail end of their current U.S. tour and made a concert stop in Knoxville at Church of the Ascension last evening. As expected, they delivered a concert with the particular superlatives they have been known for over the 42 years of the group’s existence. Those qualities are absolutely phenomenal intonation, harmonic blending that begins with pure vocal tone and ends with an uncanny listening ability, great diction, and superb performance rhythm—all of the things that define exemplary choral singing.

But, too perfect? Unfortunately, the group is so highly polished and practiced in terms of visible appearance, stage demeanor, and movement, as well as vocal quality, that they begin to appear a bit machine-like, albeit a well-oiled, calm, and distinguished one. Even the introductions of works, given by different members, came across as rigidly scripted and delivered, with little visible indication of a real human being behind the voice. A defense might be, of course, that this is the laudable product of rehearsal and constant performance which smooths away rough edges, perfects invisible communication, and hones even the tiniest movements.

While I am certain the group tailors their program selections to the anticipated audience, I also felt there was too little variation—and hence, too little drama—in the early works on the program, which varied from 16th century-esque works of William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, and Richard Dering to late 20th and 21st century works, with a noticeable absence of anything in between. Having said that, anyone’s favorites, especially mine, would be entirely individually subjective. I particularly enjoyed two works by Richard Dering, “Factum est silentium” and “Ardens est cor meum,” as well as the after-intermission work “Horizons” by the contemporary composer Peter Louis Van Dijk. The other contemporary works on the second half seemed oddly chosen.

In the grand scheme, though, a performance from a great ensemble like the King’s Singers can have intangible and  unseen effects. But not unheard ones. The performance thrill and the value of inspiration they offer to current and potential choral singers is priceless.

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