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Classical Album of the Week: Finding Harmony Around the World with The King's Singers

Rebecca Reid
The King's Singers

May 26, 2020. For those who love the sound of choral singing, our Classical Album of the Week, Finding Harmony from The King’s Singers, provides exceptional delight. Released this year by Signum Records, the album features 19 works that span centuries and styles, all embracing the theme of uniting a divided world through song.

The King’s Singers were founded over 50 years ago by six choral scholars at King’s College Cambridge. The ensemble has changed personnel over the decades, but always consists of only six singers: two countertenors, one tenor, one bass, and two baritones. Their astonishing variety of color, precision, purity of tone, and unpretentious (and often humorous) approach to music-making explains their enduring and world-wide appeal.

Finding Harmony represents a culmination of research and commissioning that the Singers designed to explore “songs throughout history, which have either brought communities together through a common cause, or helped to give identity to people whose culture or language have been threatened in some way.”

The causes fought for in the American Civil Rights movement shine in Harry Dixon Loes’ “This Little Light of Mine,” Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit,” and Alma Androzzo’s “If I Can Help Somebody,” all arranged by American composer Stacey V. Gibbs. The Singers give an uplifting rendition of “Nkosi Sikelei iAfrika,” a hymn in the Xhosa language, which was sung by supporters of Nelson Mandela in the worst days of Apartheid, and is now the South African national anthem.

Hauntingly lovely are the polyphonic songs from Georgia, “Shen khar vennaki” and “Tsinskaro;” where you can hear the unique style of Georgian singing with several lines of harmony, now recognized and protected by UNESCO.  The memorable Gaelic melodies of “O, chi, chi, ma ni morbeanna” and “Puirt a’ bheul” are not only compelling, but catchy.

One of the most poignant songs is in Yiddish: “S’Dremlen feygl” (Birds are Snoozing in the Branches.) It was written in 1943, by a Lithuanian teacher, Lea Rucnicka, who read essays and heard testimony from Jewish children about the horrific experience of fleeing the killing fields of the countryside where the Nazis had taken them and their families to be executed. Her words combine both elements of innocence and peace with the image of bullets flying across the fields.

It’s not all serious, though. Plenty of light-hearted moments enliven the album, especially in the well-known Mexican song “Cielito lindo,” by Quirino Mendoza y Cortes. The humorous change in tempo halfway through the lilting arrangement by Jorge Cózatl will have you smiling.

This impressive new album from The King’s Singers accomplishes what it set out to do—it makes us think. Finding Harmony captures our hearts as well.

Debra's last day on the air at WRTI was September 21st, 2021. She's now the radio host for The Metropolitan Opera. Read more here.