Music Reviews : King’s Singers at El Camino: Stylish, Yet Thin Tones

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Vocal virtuosity, stylishness of delivery, abundant slickness and slender, slender tone remain the stock in trade of the touring King’s Singers, a male sextet of English musicians now in their 21st season. Little has changed in the group’s performances since its first visit here 15 years ago.

At their El Camino College appearance Wednesday night in Marsee Auditorium, the six good-looking, personable vocalists repeated some of their past successes while introducing new parts of an ever-expanding repertory.

Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Nonsense Madrigals,” written for the King’s Singers last summer and first performed at the Berlin Festival in September, brings together felicitously the Hungarian composer’s myriad technical complexities and this ensemble’s many musical accomplishments in an amusing, sometimes awesome, display of musical clockworks.


Still, genuine depth seems to elude the composer here; the real resonance in these four pieces and 11 minutes comes from the texts by Lewis Carroll and others. At the end, one can admire the work without having been touched.

Strong entertainment values also characterized the performances of Robert Chilcott’s recent “Simple Gifts,” a group of five American folk songs arranged in a calculated but pleasing way, and of the sextet’s familiar Beatles medley, which closed the program. Despite recurrent problems of intonational consistency, three pieces by William Byrd emerged pristine in style and usually comprehensible of text.

Least successful in this varied program was the King’s Singers’ bland, thin-toned and word-weak attempt at five part-songs by Schubert. True versatility is an ideal, not always a practical goal.