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R R Bennett, J McCabe, P M Davies etc

The King's Singers

Signum SIGCD090

An enterprising selection of unusual multi-lingual pieces for vocal ensemble.

John McCabe introduces the programme and his own desert scenes (1986) comprise the most substantial work, their interesting texts by P Reyner Banham. Most exotic is a Japanese language setting which the King's Singers commissioned from American composer Jackson Hill. I cannot vouch for the pronunciation, but guess a lot of trouble was taken with the several obscure languages. However, the Hill piece, which is in 'contemporary diatonic style', and features interesting harmonies, swooping glissandi and a little percussion, sounds like Japan through Western sesnsibilities.

Sibelius' Rakastava is worth hearing in this, its original version, for those of us familiar with its strings and percussion transformation. Bennett's 1992 commission for the group is a strong setting of Donne, with an unaccompanied tenor solo in the middle. Strong words enhance P M Davies' evocative setting of his Orkney friend George Mackay Brown, exemplifying that composer's literary appreciation (shared by Britten's) which strengthens the interest of his vocal music. House of winter encompasses a scary storm at sea and the bitterness of winter in a remote rural setting. McCabes' Scenes in America Deserta, in five sections, depicts effectively in music different places, moods and emotions.

The recording is close and vivid, and the 20-page booklet production notable for full texts and translations in clear large print. One oddity, and a warning for boy singer enthusiasts who might be attracted to this release; 11 year old Andrew Swait, billed equally with the King's Singers on the listing, has only one phrase, thrice repeated, on the last track!

Peter Grahame Woolf