The King’s Singers

Trinity Church, Cumnock

Keith Bruce

Five stars

Although it is easily travelled by their audience as a consequence of the skill and versatility the sextet brings to the task, the journey of a King’s Singers concert is a remarkable one. This one ended, appropriately, with an arrangement of My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose, as the second explicit acknowledgement that it was a flagship event in the second year of Ayrshire’s Cumnock Tryst.

The first was a performance of a recent commission from the event’s artistic director, Sir James MacMillan, being sung in the presence of the composer for the first time. A Rumoured Seed sets verses by his frequent collaborator, Michael Symmons Roberts, to celebrate the season of Spring, and new life, in what MacMillan describes as a cycle of modern madrigals. If I had heard these lovely four songs without the benefit of introduction, I am not sure I would have identified them as his work, the “wah-wahs” and “doo-be-doos” of the accompaniment to the lead voice suggesting a hitherto un-displayed affinity with stage musicals and the Great American Songbook.

That notional volume was eventually explored itself, alongside a new arrangement of Down By The Riverside and a heart-felt reading of Paul Simon’s Some Folks Lives Roll Easy, in a second half that contrasted with the “Town Tales” first, which began and ended with Steve Martland’s settings of nursery rhymes and embraced the earlier sound of wedding bells in Spain and the street cries of Paris.

The MacMillan had perhaps been shoe-horned into that programme, which was full of complex music presented in a consistently engaging way, as is this group’s strength, but that hardly mattered. It sat perfectly comfortably between the musical salad that is Mateo Flecha’s Christian allegory, La fuego (The fire), which is full of delicious vocal effects itself, and the French songs of Orlandus Lassus.

The whole evening was heady mix of eras, and the bridge between the art songs of the earlier portion and the lighter music of part two was Australian Malcolm Williamson’s The Musicians of Bremen, a setting of a Brothers Grimm tale written for the group in 1972, just four years after it was founded, and evidence of just how well carefully mapped the group’s own journey has been.