By John Rushby-Smith

With the polished precision of the King’s Singers still ringing in the ears from the previous afternoon it was interesting to hear another celebrated a capella group, I Fagiolini, in a programme that contained enough similar material to allow comparison. The six all-male King’s Singers aim for, and generally achieve, a perfect blend, with each singer serving the whole.

Under their director Robert Hollingworth (a former Hereford cathedral chorister) I Fagiolini also go for absolute precision, but the eight singers (which include three girls) are granted more leeway to express their vocal individuality. This worked especially well in the earlier, English repertoire whose multi-linear counterpoint created the impression of a loquacious social gathering. Likewise in composer-priest Janequin’s Le chant des oyseaulx - a hilariously gossipy portrayal of human failings, which was performed complete with actions. In the largely chordal writing of four wonderfully plangent madrigals by Monteverdi blend was impeccable and the singing was nothing short of ravishing.

Things were less happy, though, when the group’s attention turned to more modern fare. Poulenc’s Sept Chansons are delicate pieces that rely for their effect on Poulenc’s characteristic interplay of subtle harmonies. For this to work it is essential that the voices balance and that tone is never forced, and in the Shire Hall performance there was far too much projection of individual lines. It was stylistically wrong. Un-French. Un-Poulenc. As for Roderick Williams’s Damnalot which ended the concert, this was a mistake in the context. Full of not terribly funny musical in-jokes about Faustian pacts, it was the sort of send-up that might go down well at an end-of-term student review. Here it was a waste of space. Pity.