Obituary: John Carol Case, bass-baritone

Charlotte Smith8th Jan 2013
John Carol Case, bass-baritoneSir Adrian Boult, EMI producer Christopher Bishop, Sheila Armstrong and John Carol Case at EMI's A Sea Symphony recording, 1968

The English bass-baritone, singing teacher and carol composer John Carol Case, OBE, has died, aged 89. He first came to notice in 1948 when he sang in Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols under the composer’s direction and went on to make several acclaimed recordings of VW’s works, including Dona nobis pacem and A Sea Symphony (both in partnership with Sheila Armstrong), Serenade to Music, Five Tudor Portraits and the Evangelist in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Case was a regular participant at the Leith Hill Music Festival in Dorking, singing in the annual performances of St Matthew Passion for 21 years; a recording of Vaughan Williams’s final account in 1958 has been issued on CD. Case also gave the premiere of the last of the Songs of Travel, ‘I have Trod the Upward and the Downward Slope’, which Ursula Vaughan Williams discovered among her husband's papers after his death.

In 1951, Case’s performance of Finzi’s Let us garlands bring began a fruitful association with the composer. He became a noted exponent of Finzi’s songs, which he studied with the composer before making acclaimed recordings of the cycles Before and After Summer, I Said to Love and Earth & Air & Rain, all accompanied by Howard Ferguson. With Daphne Ibbott he made other noted recordings of Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad, Somervell’s Maud and songs by Elgar. His earliest recordings included church music by Purcell, songs by Finzi, Goossens and Robert Still with Heather Harper accompanied by John Russell, Second Yeoman in The Yeoman of the Guard under Sargent and the St Matthew Passion in Klemperer’s star-studded recording for Columbia. Later recordings included Fauré’s Requiem under Willcocks, some of Richard Rodney Bennett’s Oxford Nursery Song Book (with Dorothy Dorow, accompanied by Marie Korchinska, Thea King and William Bennett), Elegie (Still) and These Things Shall Be (Ireland) , ‘Petrarch’s Sonnett’ in Schoenberg’s Serenade and, for a musical charity, Philip Cranmer’s parody Why Was Lloyd George Born So Beautiful? (1973).

When Boult came to record The Apostles in the 1970s, he insisted on Case for the role of Jesus. Case later recalled in interview with Stephen Connock for the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society that in one session they had ‘ground to a halt’ during a rehearsal. '”I'm afraid we weren't together, Mr Case,” [Boult] said. To which I replied, "But Sir Adrian, I was trying to follow your beat." His riposte was, "Mr Case, you have been working with me for long enough to know that I follow you, you don't follow me!" Much laughter from the orchestra!’

Case was born in Salisbury in 1923, the son of an undertaker and amateur tenor who wanted his son to become a professional singer. He became a King’s College scholar in 1942, graduating in 1947 after an interruption for army service in 1943-45. He was director of music at King’s College School in Wimbledon (where he met Vaughan Williams). In the 1950s he established himself as one of Britain’s leading soloists (he once sung We’ll Meet Again as a duet with Vera Lynn), noted for his delicacy of feeling and superb diction, and became a regular concert-giver and broadcaster in Britain and around the world. In 1976 he retired from the concert platform to devote himself to teaching singing (not least at King’s College where the original members of the King’s Singers number amongst his legion of pupils; he had earlier taught at Birmingham School of Music) and that year the Royal Academy made him an honorary member. For a time he was a music editor for Oxford University Press. In 1993 he was awarded an OBE for services to music. He composed With this Sword for the anniversary pageant of the Townswomen’s Guild (he was declared an honorary woman so he could become their director of music!) plus carols and arrangements for All Saints Church, Thornton-le-Dale, in Yorkshire, later published by Banks Music.

Guy Rickards

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