The improbably named but authentic Osbert Parsley's "Lamentations of Jeremiah" are lovely in their serene harmonies and flowing melodic lines, emotionally expressive in their treatment of the Latin text. With the King's Singers on stage last night at the Kennedy Center, the music was, of course, beautifully sung.
So were the half-dozen madrigals in five languages that opened the program, two exquisite motets by William Byrd and four Edwardian songs, with texts by such writers as Charles Dickens, Percy Shelley and the prolific Anon. Notable among these was "Love's Folly" by Sir Charles Stanford, which uses an Elizabethan text for a deft modern pastiche of Elizabethan musical style. This is the kind of music that gives the King's Singers their artistic credentials, if not the kind of music that fills all the seats in the large auditorium.
What brought out the audience was music like "Lalela Zulu," a brilliantly sung cycle of six songs composed specially for the King's Singers with Zulu texts in which they imitate warriors, people dancing on a Saturday night, a mother singing a lullaby to her baby and worrying about her absent husband. The singers shout, croon, utter strange cries, click their tongues and sing in sweet, gentle harmonies.
But the main attraction was the end of the concert -- music not announced in the program but confidently awaited by the audience. "Stormy Weather" was raised to a level of art higher than Giovanni Gastoldi's "Amor Vittorioso." In "The Flight of the Bumblebee," members of the group watched the imaginary creature fly around the stage while their voices hummed and buzzed melodically. To realize fully how good this music is -- or Noel Coward, Neil Simon, Flanders and Swann -- it must be performed by the King's Singers. Any music they sing becomes a classic.