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REVIEW

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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Requiem, Op.48 (ed. Rutter)* [35:22]
Ave verum corpus, Op.65, No.1 [3:43]
Messe Basse [10:06]
Tantum ergo, Op.65, No.2 [2:36]
Cantique de Jean Racine, Op.11 (ed. Rutter) [6:20]
Richard Pittsinger (treble); David Pittsinger (bass-baritone)
*Frederick Teado & Kevin Kwan (organ)
Saint Thomas Choir of Men & Boys, Fifth Avenue, New York
Orchestra of St Luke’s/John Scott
rec. Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York
Latin & French texts and English translations included
RESONUS CLASSICS RES10174 [58:13]

The untimely death of John Scott in 2015 occurred not long after the announcement of an arrangement for Resonus Classics to issue recordings made by him and his choir at Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue. Happily, it seems that the choir already had some recordings ‘in the can’ so although we’ve been deprived of new recordings we can at least hear examples of the fine wok Scott had done with the choir of which he had been director snice 2004. This excellent disc of music by Fauré shows the choir off to excellent advantage.

The main interest lies in the Requiem for which John Rutter’s excellent edition is used. The choir has an uncommonly large treble section on this occasion. No less than 35 boys are listed and there’s no indication that they’re not all involved. By comparison, I’ve been listening also to a recording that the choir made in 2008 of the Rachmaninov All-Night Vigil and there 10 fewer trebles involved there. The remainder of the choir on this Fauré disc comprises six male altos and five each of tenors and basses. The large number of trebles does impart quite a degree of brightness to the overall sound but this is by no means overdone; the boys sing very well and in a fresh, disciplined fashion and I enjoyed the sound of the choir very much.

Two soloists are used in the Requiem. Richard Pittsinger, the treble, is a member of the choir. David Pittsinger (his father?) is a guest. Richard does very well indeed in the Pie Jesu. I’m less sure about David Pittsinger. He has a big voice and the sound that he makes is too full and large for my taste in this work – other listeners may disagree. He almost sounds operatic, especially in the ‘Libera me’, and his singing is a little bit out of scale for the performance. To be truthful I think he’d be better suited to a full-orchestra performance of the work rather than this more intimate version.

The choir sings extremely well. The alto and tenor sections are excellent in the opening section of the Offertoire and the two lines are perfectly balanced, which isn’t always the case. Also I’m pleased to say that there’s no trace at all of ‘hootiness’ in the altos’ sound. Later in this movement, after the solo has finished, the full choir makes a lovely sound in the closing section, the singing supple and beautifully calibrated. The Sanctus is enriched by a lovely solo violin line and in the Agnus Dei the tenors clearly relish their opening melody, as well they might. ‘In Paradisum’ is delectable, the trebles sounding suitably angelic. All in all this is a fine performance of Fauré’s cherishable masterpiece and I enjoyed it very much.

The lovely Cantique de Jean Racine is given a beautiful and committed performance but I wish John Scott had moved the music on just a little more: his tempo is just too leisurely.

The remainder of the programme uses the treble voices only, accompanied by organ. The two miniatures that form Op 65 are both very nicely done. Ave verum corpus is an elegant, unpretentious little piece. The choir sings either in unison or two parts and the boys make a fine sound, singing with absolute unanimity, the tuning spot-on. Tantum ergo has parts for a trio of treble soloists, who do very well, in addition to the main choir. The Messe Basse is a modest creation but charming. Its brevity is explained in part by the omission of not only the Credo but also the Gloria. The Kyrie and Benedictus each have an important part for a solo treble - Richard Pittsinger and Jack Townsend Keller respectively. Both soloists are excellent. The choral writing is either in unison or two parts and the St Thomas’ boys make a fine showing.

I’m not surprised that John Scott’s very sudden passing was so much mourned at Saint Thomas, Fifth Avenue for this disc makes very clear that he’d done a wonderful job as Director of Music, building on the work of his equally distinguished predecessor, Gerre Hancock. The singing on this disc is distinguished and I hope that anyone who acquires it will enjoy it as much as I did.

In addition to the quality of the music making the release is graced by an excellent set of notes by Dr Martin Ennis. No recording date given but I see that the recordings bear the copyright date 2012 so I presume the sessions took place around that time. The engineering by John C Baker and Paul Vazquez strikes me as very successful. The choir is expertly reported and is very well balanced against the accompanying instruments. Furthermore the listener gets a nice sense of the ambience of the church.

This is a most desirable release.

John Quinn

 

 




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