DURUFLÉ; HOWELLS Requiem
Former St Paul’s Cathedral music director John Scott worked at Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, until his early death in 2015. While in this role he made a number of recordings with the church’s men and boys’ choir, which have been posthumously released by Resonus. The series has been a varied and infinitely rich one, and sadly this recording of the Requiems by Duruflé and Howells will be the final volume.
But what can Scott and his forces bring to these two often-recorded choral classics? The first thing to strike you, as in so many recordings from this series, is the quality of the trebles. The larger forces of Saint Thomas’s Choir (24 trebles are credited here, compared to the usual Oxbridge 16 or even Westminster Cathedral’s 20) give the sound greater stability and make for a glossier, smoother blend. Listen to the Howells alongside the benchmark recording by Robinson and St John’s Cambridge (Naxos, 1/00) and the Americans have a much more rounded, more corporate tone. Whether you prefer this to the more pitted, characterful English sound is a matter of taste.
In many ways the Saint Thomas Choir straddle the divide between choirs of men and boys and mixed chamber and chapel choirs. It’s hard to look past Layton and Trinity Cambridge’s superb recording of the Howells (Hyperion, 6/12) on the one hand or Robinson’s on the other, but this new recording charts a nice middle ground in terms of breadth of sound and tone quality. The use of trebles feels particularly appropriate, given the work’s composer-driven association with the death of his nine-year-old son Michael.
The Duruflé (recorded here in the arrangement for choir, organ and cello) is equally strong, carefully paced and phrased under Scott’s direction to give the plainchant real direction and flow – no brooding or lingering here. The freshness persists throughout this recording, even in the darker moments of the ‘Libera me’ and ‘Domine Jesu Christe’, a product of the bright, forward vowels and crisp but never affected diction.
It’s hard to imagine a finer musical farewell to Scott and a stronger final volume in his long choral legacy.