Millie Tsang

One year on from their Fringe debut, Cadenza once more deliver an exceptionally polished performance; though at times lacking in performative energy and expression, the group reach a standard of musicianship which demands the attendance and acclaim of any audience even remotely interested in a cappella singing.

Cadenza, “Cambridge University's premier a cappella group” returns to the Edinburgh Fringe after their sold-out debut last year, which coincided with the release of their first EP, Under the Lights, in August 2018. Last year also saw their debut single and music video, Thrill of the Uptown Freak, nominated for Best Mixed Collegiate Video by The Contemporary A Cappella Society. These achievements saw the group attain a freshly heightened prestige. This year, Cadenza return, undoubtedly aspiring to match or surpass the expectations garnered by their previous success.

Thankfully, Cadenza's set this year manages to deliver the breathtaking technical excellence they have become known for, with newly premiering arrangements maintaining the outstanding standards of their previous work. Pia Rose Scattergood's musical direction is intelligent and creative, executing arrangements which delight in their tendency to deconstruct well known tunes and craft them into fresh and compelling re-imaginings. This variety of styles and tones featuring in the group's fifty-minute set is matched by the breadth of talent displayed by the ensemble; ranging from crisp beatboxing and sonorous bass lines to immaculate harmonies and stunning solo talent. The performers of Cadenza are especially captivating when demonstrating their sensitivity to pitch, gradually building up harmonies from a single voice into the accumulation of many parts accompanied by dynamic growth. These manoeuvres build, recede, and then bloom again into procedurally built unities, the preceding journey emphasising and celebrating the constituent disparity of the harmony.

Difficult but crucial for any a cappella group, the ensemble carefully manage to ensure optimal volume balance for each vocal part, while the dynamics in all arrangements were extremely well considered and executed. Nevertheless, on a few occasions, soloists did become lost in the backing vocals, notably during Dan Atkinson's outstanding solo featured in the group's arrangement of The Blower’s Daughter by Damien Rice. However, given the suboptimal acoustics of the venue, some allowance ought to be made, especially considering that levels were balanced very well overall.


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Unfortunately, in moments throughout their fifty-minute set, a fixation on technical perfection seemed to come at the expense of performative energy and enthusiasm for many of the group's thirteen performers. A general half-heartedness emerged primarily in the execution of the choreography – which, in itself, proved sensibly understated yet effective – with many of the performers seeming to be simply ‘going through the motions'. Furthermore, for a group of such calibre, I was disappointed to see expressions during up-beat songs varying wildly, from those trying to convey some enthusiasm to the somewhat deadpan and the downright bored. Thankfully, expressiveness and a sense of enjoyment did emerge in Julia Morris's stand-out performance in the group's arrangement of Corinne Bailey Rae's Put Your Records On, which featured playful choreography and a refreshingly energetic stage presence from Morris. Particular mention should also go to Fionn Connolly's performance in an especially entertaining rendition of Closer by The Chainsmokers, combining strong vocals with a much-needed sense of fun and self-awareness.

Despite my nit-picks, it would be a mistake to take Cadenza's excellence for granted; what they achieve in this year's set is incredibly impressive and represents some of the best musical talent you can hope to see at the Fringe. This group of performers deserve the reputation they have garnered and they succeed in delivering the same level of polish and professionalism which they brought to their Fringe debut last year. I would encourage even the most distant admirers of a cappella singing to expose themselves to what Cadenza have to offer: professional standard talent, consistently creative arrangements and an unrestrained celebration of a cappella performance.

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