Reading University’s ensemble in residence, the a cappella quintet Perfect Fifth, gave a splendid spring performance at the London Road campus on 4 May, by turns ebullient, magical and soulful.
The programme ranged from spiky modern pop like Gotye’s Somebody that I used to know through the mellow Don’t it make my brown eyes blue (famously recorded by Crystal Gayle in 1977) and the spiritual “My lord what a morning” to challenging modern art music such as Tavener’s “The Lamb”and Dyson’s To Music.
Tavener’s The Lamb can be a difficult piece to perform well, veering as it does from razor sharp disharmonies to warm, relaxing resolutions, invoking both ancient tradition and modern disquiet. It’s like a piece of delicate old porcelain that needs to be handled with minute dexterity and perfect balance otherwise it disintegrates. The group managed to conjure a mood of magic in the hall with this one.
By contrast, pop and blues songs like the lyrical “Don’t it make my brown eyes blue”, Phil Collins’ Groovy kind of love and Adele’s Rolling in the deep required, and got, a more robust approach. The concert ended with cheerful and upbeat performance of Billy Joel’s 1983 a cappella doo-wop classic For the longest time that the group seemed to enjoy as much as the audience, perhaps because it gave tenor Steve Gerred the chance to take a role as lead vocalist at last!
The group managed to balance their voices elegantly, although this high art approach was a tad too polite for my taste in the spiritual My lord what a morning which comes from a folk tradition that, rather like pop, may benefit from more grunt and less polish. But then, I might just be trying to pretend to add criticism to a concert I actually thought was terrific, because “Rolling in the deep” has a lot of grunt in its ‘natural’ state, and I didn’t miss it here.
All this critical flannel is as irrelevant to what was probably the best indication of the quality of the performance; the attentive silence of children from the Palmer Academy who were in the audience.
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