A night of exquisite a cappella harmony
The Queen’s Six Vocal/A Cappella
Earl Cameron Theatre, City Hall
Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts
The Queen’s Six, a group of master a cappella musicians, played before a full house at Earl Cameron Theatre on Monday night.
Their programme of music spanned 450 years and three continents, and was performed by counter tenor, tenor and baritone/bass voices.
The six-member group was established in 2008 on the 450th anniversary of the ascension of Queen Elizabeth 1. Delightfully jokey, joshing and self-deprecatory, the men are all lay clerks of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and have the range, technique and talent to perfectly perform any vocal music from any era.
Two of seven songs from the English Renaissance were dedicated to Queen Elizabeth 1: William Byrd’s 1572 O Lord Make Thy Servant Elizabeth Our Queen was composed some 15 years into her reign. It sounds as if it’s from an earlier time and has an affinity with his masses, imbued with an intense, understated piety. Thomas Morley’s Arise, Awake is a complex, upbeat five-part motet.
A tender love song attributed to Henry VIII followed. The group reminded us that his remains are interred in St George’s Chapel and, as resident musicians, they regularly perform over his grave. They also reminded us of the lethal nature of religion during the times of these reformation monarchs.
The next song, A Virgin and Mother by John Merbecke (1510-85), was a tender evocation of Christmas, beautifully performed in three parts. But we also learnt that the composer and four companions were arrested for heresy in 1541 and all except Merbecke were burnt at the stake.
The first half ended with a powerful arrangement of Amazing Grace and two modern compositions — Nico Muhly’s God Will Be Their Light, a tender, requiem-like piece with daring modern chord structures, and Philip Moore’s setting of Psalm 47, O Clap Your Hands, in which the singers broke into two choirs with syncopated antiphons.
Four traditional English folk songs opened the second half, the standout ones being a hilarious What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor? complete with random hiccups and the very moving, but rarely heard, Water of Tyne.
We were then treated to seven exquisite a cappella arrangements of modern music including Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely, Paul McCartney’s Here, There and Everywhere, Antônio Carlos Jobim’s Wave and, finally, a brilliant, dizzying melodic mash-up of Bacharach, Gloria Gaynor and the Weather Girls entitled Say a Little Prayer to Survive When it’s Raining Men. The six filed out to our thunderous applause, and then filed back onstage again to sing a harmonically perfect God Save the Queen. What else?