Cantabile at The Pheasantry, London

The satire from this eminently skilful vocal quartet might be dispensable but the straight-ahead renditions were admirable


Back for a fourth Christmas – it should have been a fourth “successive” Christmas put SARS-CoV-2 put the mockers on last year – on King’s Road this London quartet (the group’s alternate name) are, if anything, even more popular than previously, possibly something to do with the way Pheasantry audiences respond to the particular blending of Michael Steffan’s baritone with William Purefoy’s counter-tenor against the common-or-garden tenors of Mark Fleming and Christopher O’Gormon.

Having said that I did overhear someone at an adjacent table protesting that they were no more or less than a barber-shop quartet and whilst that is undeniably true it’s equally true to say that the barber shop in question is located at 9, Curzon Street, W1, where George Francis William Trumper began cutting gentleman’s hair and dispensing perfume in 1795.

They invariably play this date in the last week in December and although they retain the crowd-pleasing elements – the brilliant impression of a 78-rpm shellac recording of Strangers In The Night with all the attendant scratches, hisses, splutterings etc (marred only by the choice of song: 78s had been phased out by the time Strangers In The Night was written) and the 27 carols crammed together identifiable only by a line or even a word in perfect pitch, a routine introduced in the 1950s by Max Bygraves (the Cowboys Cantata, in which he merged titles like Mule Train and The Cry Of The Wild Goose) – they also offer a generous helping of new material as divergent as My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose and Good Morning, Heartache and a little-known Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice number, The Summer Game, celebrating cricket.

If I find their weakness for satire – as in their parody lyrics for Summer (Easter) Holiday and the Four Freshmen’s Graduation (Vaccination) Day, a tad self-indulgent I loved the straight-ahead readings of standards like A Foggy Day and How Are Things In Glocha Morra. All in all a well-balanced and highly entertaining evening well worth braving the cold for.

Cantabile at The Pheasantry, King’s Road, Chelsea, London, SW3 4UT