I heard Apollo 5 in concert on 9/18/20 (it was live on 9/12/20). It was presented as part of the VOCES8 Live From London series. Apollo 5 is a five-voice group based in London. They opened with “Vigilate” by William Byrd and I was instantly struck by their vibrant, exciting, supple sound. Here's a performance that was posted on YouTube in January:
The next piece, also by Byrd, was exceptionally lovely. Or as the English might say, surpassingly lovely!
I had an interesting moment in the third piece, “Veni Domine Francisco” by Guerrero Gaude. I was following one of the tenor parts and knew exactly where it was going - - and it wasn’t your typical V-I cadence, it was something more distinctive and elegant. So I think I must have sung that piece at some point.
One of the two tenors took a breather for “Virgo” by Josquin des Prez and we had just the two women, the other tenor, and the bass. The piece is written in a sort of “girls against boys” structure, which was a nice opportunity to hear their four voices individually. The singers in this group have a talent for singing in a forthright and individualistic way, but still creating a creamy blend.
The next two pieces, by Thomas Tallis and Paul Smith, led effortlessly from one into the other, even though they were separated by many centuries. That’s always nice to hear. “This Marriage” by Eric Whitcare was pretty, and had more substance than most of the Whitacre pieces I’ve heard (which are usually too feathery for my taste).
“Where all Roses Go” by Michael McGlynn was a highlight of the concert. Gentle and delicate, but also rich and colorful.
I was a little worried to see a set of pop songs at the end of the program, and that worry was somewhat justified. Their singing was a little too coy in “These Foolish Things,” but not so much that it drove me around the bend. I don’t know why, but I’ve never liked the Elton John song “Your Song” (“It’s a little bit funny…”). So I won’t talk about the Apollo 5 performance, since I don’t think anyone could sing that song in a way that I like. But hm, I let my mind wander for a bit and came up with Cassandra Wilson! She could sing it as an intense ballad, maybe just with guitar, that would work. Could someone get a message to her?
“Eleanor Rigby” was, as expected, annoying. And just as was the case with other classical ensembles singing pop in this series, a big part of the problem was their performance style: the use of gesture, the come hither shoulder, the meaningful raised eyebrow. There were moments in the arrangement that were pure bepop vocal jazz, and they were exciting and had the group doing something unexpected, something they do well. I’d rather have heard more of that.
Off topic, have you heard Aretha Franklin’s recording of the song? One of the greatest ever re-imaginings of a Beatles song. Here's a live performance from 1971, two and a half minutes of WHOA! Just TRY sitting still.
The final song, “Only You,” by Vince Clark, was sweet. Thankfully, the five singers stood still and didn’t do anything goofy or insincere. It wasn’t the “Only You” that I know, the 60s doo wop classic that was used on the Wendy’s commercials back in the 80s. I looked for a performance of the song on YouTube and found this divine rendition by a voice of the 80s, Alison Moyet, at the Burberry 2016 spring/summer womenswear show! How could I have missed this?