Music Reviews : King's Singers' Eclectic Program Lightens the Night

Taking an optimistic view of a grim situation, you could say that the King's Singers' concert at the Ambassador on Thursday night was a democratic and multicultural affair. With polish and reverence, the British vocal group attended to English and Spanish Renaissance music, to the 20th-Century French froth of Poulenc's "Chansons francais," as well as to Broadway hokum and the pop jukebox domain.

Any program that dares to veer from the timeless profundity of 16th-Century composer Thomas Tallis to the instantly stale mundanity of Andrew Lloyd Webber is bound to arouse skepticism. What made this evening especially painful was the illogical disparity of its aesthetics. It began beautifully, with the vocal group's refined mesh on Renaissance works by Byrd, and sank to the level of that elevator-music chestnut "Eleanor Rigby," which, however elaborately arranged, arrives leaden on aural impact.

Regrettably, and with no explanation, the scheduled performance of Gunther Schuller's "All About Kern" was scrapped, replaced by a pallid mixed salad of tunes from "stage and screen," the most tolerable being Rodney Bennett's lushly textured treatment of Gershwin's "Our Love Is Here to Stay." When stagehands came to cart the music stands away, it was a signal that, well--pop went the culture. There were incidental pleasures along the way, such as the disarmingly pristine version of "After the Goldrush," by proto-grunge hero Neil Young.

In all, though, the stylistic blend proved to be both lethal and counterproductive. Healthy eclecticism is one thing; unabashed, populist pandering another.

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