As The King's Singers close in on 50 years at the top of the world of a cappella, Sony Classical's 11-CD set of classic albums from the 1990s shows their extraordinary combination of talent and versatility. With music from Josquin to Joel, Stravinsky to Sullivan, this winning collection is crucial listening for singing aficionados of all stripes.
Few ensembles have ever straddled the boundary between classical and popular music as successfully as The King's Singers and just as few have achieved success in both early and contemporary repertoire. But in this collection, an album of Josquin songs and motets sits comfortably alongside a set of their renowned pop music arrangements, while a single CD (Chanson d'amour) can run the gamut from Schubert to Andrew Lloyd Webber.
As well as tackling Josquin Desprez on their album Renaissance, The King's Singers also devote a disc to William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, recording a selection of motets as well as Tallis' Lamentations of Jeremiah. Another album Fire-water: The Spirit of Renaissance Spain is a collaboration with harpist Andrew Lawrence-King and The Harp Consort which places the spotlight on some fascinating lesser-known repertoire, in distinctive arrangements in which the six voices blend with an ensemble of early instruments.
The group, founded in 1968, have premiered countless works over the years, and two albums here contain music written just for them. Street Songs, a collaboration with the percussionist Evelyn Glennie, contains music by Steve Martland, Stanley Glasser and others, while the contemplative Sermons and Devotions mixes commissions from Veljo Tormis, Geoffrey Poole and Richard Rodney Bennett with classic 20th-century vocal works by Górecki, Stravinsky and Tavener. The King's Singers, shorn of their usual vocal acrobatics, are still a musical group of the very highest order, wrote Gramophone of that release.
But those vocal acrobatics are present in abundance elsewhere in this collection. On three albums of their legendary pop arrangements, an impossibly broad range of artists are given the King's Singers treatment, including Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, Elton John, Seal, Sade and Ultravox.
Elsewhere, the collection has everything from a wickedly entertaining Gilbert and Sullivan album to a disc entitled Nightsong that features nocturnally themed 19th-century music by Schubert, Schumann, Reger and others showing that there really is no corner of the musical repertoire the group have left untouched.
Countless imitators later, The King's Singers remain unique for their musical intelligence, virtuosity and sheer good humour all qualities this collection has in spades.
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CD1 - Good Vibrations (1991)
CD2 - Renaissance (1992)
CD3 - Chanson d’amour (1992)
CD4 - Here’s a Howdy Do! – A Gilbert and Sullivan Festival (1993)
CD5 - English Renaissance (1993)
CD6 - Sermons and Devotions (1995)
CD7 - Circle of Life - Close-harmony Arrangements of timeless Songs from famous Movies (1996)
CD8 - Nightsong (1996)
CD9 - Spirit Voices (1997)
CD10 - Street Songs (1997)
CD11 - Fire - Water, The Spirit of Renaissance Spain (1999)