Dancing Day Matthew MARTIN (b. 1976) Novo profusi gaudio (2010) [3:36] Patrick HADLEY (1899-1973) I sing of a maiden (1936) [2:55] Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) A Ceremony of Carols, Op.28 (1942) [22:29] A New Year Carol (1936/1971) [2:19] Traditional Dutch King Jesus hath a Garden (arr. John
Scott) [3:20] John RUTTER (b. 1945) Dancing Day (1974) [25:31] Traditional English On Christmas Night (Sussex Carol)
(arr. Philip Ledger)[2:00] William MATHIAS (1934-1992) Wassail Carol (1964)[1:41]
Sara Cutler (harp); Stephen Buzard, Benjamin Sheen (organ)
Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, Fifth Avenue, New York/John Scott
rec. Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York, 15-17 April 2015. DDD.
Texts and translations included RESONUS RES10158 [63:58]
It’s rather poignant to receive this disc to review since it’s a reminder of the talent of the late John Scott who died very suddenly in August 2015 at the very early age of 59. I think I’m right in saying that his death occurred just one day after he had returned to New York following a very successful recital tour of Europe. He had been Organist and Director of Music at Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue since the summer of 2004. This present disc is, I believe, one of the early releases under a recent contract between the Saint Thomas’s choir and Resonus. I don’t know if any more recordings were made before Scott’s death but on the evidence of this disc whoever succeeds him will inherit a well-trained, responsive choir.
This programme is built around two significant scores for high voices and harp. Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols is very well done. So far as I could make out there’s no real attempt to convey the sound of an approaching choir in the opening Processional, though the volume does increase somewhat. Oddly, however, when the boys sing the same material at the end of the work you do get the sense of a receding choir. The singing is accomplished and fresh. I liked the keen vigour in ‘As dew in Aprille’ and there’s excellent attack in ‘This little babe’. ‘Adam lay i-bounden’ is rhythmically precise; here and throughout the performance the boys’ diction is commendably crisp. No fewer than eight of the trebles get solo opportunities. All do well but particularly commendable is the singing of John Dominick Mignardi in ‘That yonge child’. The harp accompaniment is expertly played by Sara Cutler who comes into her own particularly with a very sensitive rendition of the solo Interlude.
The other work for voices and harp is John Rutter’s Dancing Day. This is a rather different piece in that whereas Britten composed original settings Rutter arranges six well-known carols. The carols are grouped into two sets of three and each set is prefaced by a fairly substantial harp solo, both of which are based on the carol which is sung immediately afterwards. Once again Sara Cutler is admirable here as, indeed, she is when accompanying the singers. I don’t think that Dancing Day is comparable in musical stature to A Ceremony of Carols but, in truth, that’s beside the point. What matters is that the arrangements evidence Rutter’s customary skill and sensitivity. I sang in the Britten years ago as a treble but my voice had broken long before Rutter’s work came along; I should imagine that his arrangements are fun to sing and, as so often with this composer, not as easy to sing as it may seem from listening. The St, Thomas’s boys do them very well; I particularly relished the way they deliberately coarsen their tone for the ‘Herod’ verse of the Coventry Carol.
Most of the remaining individual items involve the full choir. The programme opens and closes in splendid style with robust, strongly rhythmical pieces. William Mathias’s Wassail Carol is well known – though no less welcome for that. However, Novo profusi gaudio by Matthew Martin is a piece I don’t think I’ve encountered before. It’s a terrific opener to this programme, not least because it establishes from the outset that Scott’s choir is in fine fettle. Scott’s own arrangement of King Jesus hath a Garden was made while he was Organ Scholar at St John’s College, Cambridge (1974-78). Essentially, it seems, he’s added an organ part – a jolly effective one – to Charles Wood’s choral harmonisation. The result is delightful.
I enjoyed this disc very much. The singing is very good throughout and John Scott chose a pleasing programme. The recorded sound is very good, as are the notes by Nigel Simeone. On this showing the premature passing of John Scott must have left a big hole at Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue.