In what amounted to a midweek Pops concert, the King’s Singers brought sophisticated vocal skills and an attitude of dry mock-reverence to suites of folk songs, madrigals, rock ballads plus two whimsical commissioned scores and an unlikely operatic bonbon, Wednesday at Hollywood Bowl.
The Bowl shell was paneled off for the occasion, with large potted trees softening the vista behind the six unaccompanied male singers (Jeremy Jackman, Alastair Hume, Bob Chilcott, Anthony Holt, Simon Carrington and Colin Mason).
An echo sometimes added an uninvited seventh voice to the performance, but generally the amplification system conveyed an intimate, mellow (if over-trebly) sense of the group’s expertise.
Be it ever so humble, each ditty seemed to receive a spoken introduction worthy of “Masterpiece Theatre” and a performance so free of unseemly emotional heat that you’d swear (or affirm) Queen Victoria still reigned, God bless her.
Geoff Richards’ arrangements of songs from the Auvergne district of France emerged positively ecclesiastical--their forthrightness and lusty humor purged in the sweet croony vocalises, delicate decrescendos, transparent blendings of high (tenor/countertenor) lines, refined overlapping phrases and other admirably controlled effects.
Obviously, the King’s Singer’s carefully honed this droll clash between performing style and textual content--if nothing else, the group’s pseudo-unctuous, neo-Elizabethan rendition of “Can’t Buy Me Love” proved as much. Definitively.
Indeed, once past the technical and stylistic intricacies of “The Madrigal History Tour” (capped brilliantly by the vocal fusillades that represented battle noises in Janequin’s “La guerre”), the program settled completely into contemporary gamesmanship.
Besides exploiting the singers’ rhythmic dexterity and sharpness of attack in tongue-twisting “tick- tock” passages, Paul Patterson’s “Time Piece” incorporated instrumentalish wah-wahing and even a Louis Armstrong imitation. The ostensible point: showing how the Garden of Eden fell because of Adam’s shockproof, waterproof, luminous, digital wristwatch.
Equally inconsequential, Paul Drayton’s pastiche “Masterpiece” set the names of great classical composers to facsimiles of their characteristic musical styles, proving anew that Mozart sounds mellifluous and Beethoven dramatic--starting with their monikers.
Finally, the singers’ penchant for imitating musical instruments took over in a delirious assault upon the overture to Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia"--a performance filled with virtuosic “doodley-dos” and don’ts, as well as impeccably calibrated, calliope-like oompah effects undeniably unexpected in this repertory. Now if someone would only persuade them to take on something by Philip Glass . . . .