THE first concert of the year at the University of York is always a memorable occasion. The Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall was packed out for The Swingles and was buzzing with people from a wide age range.

The Swingles’ famous versatility made the evening a tour-de-force. The programme, announced by the performers, ranged from Corelli and their signature Jazz Sebastian Bach arrangement, to Finnish, Bulgarian and North American folk music. Their diverse set-list also included The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, recent hits by Elbow and Mumford and Sons and compositions by the group.

The audience’s standing ovation did not only acknowledge the vocal virtuosity and technical control of this a cappella ensemble. Slick choreography also guaranteed full visual attention and a refreshing overall concert experience, complete with audience participation and jazz improvisation.

The theatrical use of space and grouping was carefully varied. This was especially effective during the close-knit, collective interaction in works such as Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango.

A relaxed performance style held our attention and even enabled a description of such techniques as live-looping, where live sections of songs are recorded and played back, overlapping with new bits. Credit is also due here to The Swingles’ sound engineer, Hugh Walker.

With demanding close harmonies and bold stylistic synthesis – where else would you hear beatboxing with Bach? – the lasting impression of The Swingles was of seven innovative musicians who are extremely good at what they do.

Review by Owen Burton