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MUSIC REVIEW : The King’s Singers Command Respect in the Kingdom of Pop, Jazz

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On any given night, the King’s Singers can warble Renaissance madrigals, tackle their latest avant-garde commission, purvey folk songs by distinguished fellow Englishmen, or, well, sing in just about any style you could name.

Friday night, in their debut here at Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, they became a pop/jazz sextet--and they command equal respect on that turf, too.

Viewed from the pop side of the fence, the King’s Singers put their harmonies together like a combination of the Hi-Los and Take 6, with wildly soaring flights from the two countertenors and self-contained orchestral and rhythm effects.

They can glide smoothly and deftly into a sophisticated, slightly jazzy chart like Richard Rodney Bennett’s treatment of the Gershwins’ “Sweet and Low-Down.” They can sound more like the Beach Boys than the Beach Boys do now in a stunning, nearly right-off-the-record treatment of “Good Vibrations.”

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For a good deal of the second half, they surveyed the recordings of Paul Simon, including a most inventive arrangement of “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and a “Cecelia” that cleverly tried to simulate its clattering rhythm. Sometimes, however, there were lapses of taste: Duke Ellington’s sublime “Creole Love Call” was subjected to some slapstick mangling that sounded like bad Spike Jones.

Some of the King’s Singers’ virtuosic excursions were accompanied by Larry Blank and the Pacific Symphony Orchestra--uneventfully except when the whimsical arrangements asked them to sail into ballet excepts and Tchaikovsky. On its own, plagued by overbearing amplification, the Pacific Symphony muddled through a routine “Chester” from William Schuman’s “New England Triptych” and a halfhearted reading of Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story,” lamentably lacking in tension and rhythmic definition. It was just loud.


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