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St Thomas’ Church perches somewhat incongruously among the vast skyscrapers of Fifth Avenue in New York’s Manhattan. Based on the Anglican Cathedral model, it has the only residential choir school in the United States, and fields an all-male choir of men and boys who sing five services a week and a full concert program. This disc of J. S. Bach motets shows the choir and their conductor John Scott on excellent form. There is a rather stately approach to tempo, which is perhaps necessary given the cavernous acoustic of St Thomas’, but one sometimes wishes that the ensemble would have adopted a more spritely approach to Bach’s exhilarating contrapuntal passages.

Recording-wise, the challenge is actually different from reproducing the experience of being in the church with such contrapuntal music: it is to engineer the sound to have as much clarity as possible between the individual parts. I would have liked to hear more parity between the trebles and the other parts – the continuo part is also not present enough, and the inner parts could occupy a more prominent place in the texture. The St Thomas’ trebles have a whooping sound reminiscent of some of the more Italianate cathedral choirs this side of the Atlantic, and they negotiate the complex coloratura well for the most part. Richard Pittsinger’s solo in the second movement of ‘Singet dem Herrn’ is pleasingly shaped. Overall, greater recording clarity would have allowed the listener to appreciate these performances with added ease.

Nicholas Bown Read the full review on Agora Classica


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