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The Queen’s Six – a Right Royal Treat

The Queens’ Six, an a capella group whose members make up part of the Lay Clerks of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, gave an outstanding vocal performance to the Peak Music audience at the last concert of this season. Demonstrating the highest musical standards that would be expected of a group who regularly sing for the Royal family, the six vocalists delivered a highly entertaining repertoire that extended far beyond the reach of the choir stalls to include musical theatre, lewd madrigals and upbeat pop arrangements.

The audience was initially greeted by six soberly suited singers – two altos, Elisabeth Paul and Tom Lilburn, tenors Dominic Bland and Toby Ward plus basses Andrew Thompson and Simon Whiteley – who opened the performance in perfectly timed harmony with pieces from the reigns of Elizabeth I and Henry VIII that included a mesmerising performance by alto Tom Lilburn. The informative and witty accompanying commentary advised that Henry VIII was known to have been a keen musician, singer, composer and keyboard player, whilst the madrigal Hard by a Crystal Fountain was one of a series of 25 written for Elizabeth I, who was sometimes referred to informally as ‘Oriana’; each of the 25 madrigals included the final phrase “Then sang the shepherds and nymphs of Diana: long live fair Oriana.”

This was followed by pieces sung more recently by several of the group members at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and at the funeral of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh. The deep tones of bass Simon Whiteley, heard at Prince Philip’s funeral, opened The Burial Sentences by William Croft recalling that sad day, but it was the moving delivery by all of the well-known naval hymn Eternal Father, strong to save that truly brought home memories of the deep poignancy of that occasion. After such heart-rending pieces, three lighter numbers followed to conclude the first half and set the scene for the second. The group visibly loosened up to deliver playful versions of The Mermaid, Amazing Grace and What shall we do with a drunken sailor that included excellent harmonies, great ham acting and hiccoughs to order!

The much more informal second half showed how much fun an a capella group can have playing with music and verse whilst remaining in perfect harmony. Simon Whiteley delivered linguistic gymnastics by reciting the periodic table in The Elements whilst the curiously deranged wording of Tom Lehrer’s The Masochism Tango left its mark. Musical Theatre, clearly a favourite musical style of alto Elisabeth Paul, was featured with songs from popular West End hits Rent and Hamilton. The evening was rounded off with pop music, where the full power of tenor Dominic Bland’s voice was a joy to be heard during renditions of The Proclaimers’ I’m gonna be (500 miles) and Huey Lewis and the News’ version of The Power of Love. The former was bravely delivered by Bland in ‘Scottish’, quite a feat by a ‘Southerner’ whom we learned had never been so far north before this visit to Chatsworth!

This wonderful a cappella group gave a concert of outstanding quality that was also, at times, sheer fun. They are well known for their public royal performances but it was also easy to imagine the second half of the concert being delivered at a private royal occasion to entertain honoured guests. And the intriguing thing is – how much of this program had been heard by members of the Royal family? We’ll never know!

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