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John Rutter: Fancies
John Clements: Flower of Beauty
John Rutter, arranger: The Keel Row – Black Sheep – Down By the Sally Gardens – I Know Where I’m Going
Ralph Vaughan Williams, arranger: The Turtle Dove
Stuart Churchill, arranger: Black Is The Color of My True Love’s Hair
Goff Richards, arranger: Lamorna
Ron Nelson, arranger: He’s Gone Away
Gustav Holst, arranger: Swansea Town
Gordon Langford, arranger: The Oak and The Ash
David Willcocks, arranger: Early One Morning
Percy Grainger, arranger: Londonderry Air
James Erb, arranger: Shenandoah

St. Charles Singers, Metropolis Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Hunt (conductor)
Recorded at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church, St. Charles, Illinois (June 2003) – 53'
Proteus 4027 – CD and booklet with texts in English

The liner notes to this disc from the St. Charles Singers quote composer John Rutter as saying, "I shall always remember them as one of the best choirs I have ever made music with." Given the amount of Rutter's music on this disc, it appears that the composer's affection was mutual. Is this one of the best choirs you may have never heard of? Not likely. They are good, to be sure, and this disc contains some enjoyable music-making, but its appeal is limited.

The disc opens with Rutter's Fancies, a cycle of six pieces set for chorus and chamber orchestra. The texts, from various sources, are wistfully romantic. The folk-song like settings are appropriately unfussy, but not necessarily simple. The accompanying orchestration is spirited and rhythmically driving, but not overbearing and the Metropolis Chamber Orchestra does a fine job in precisely executing it. Honestly, this music is just not all that memorable. It is competent and tuneful, but this Rutter piece will not prove particularly enduring. There are some nice, lyric moments, particularly in “There Is A Garden In her Face.” “Midnight’s Bell” is a nice contrast, but it is not music that bears repeated listening. Devotees of the composer’s music will be those most interested in this.

The St. Charles Singers sing with enthusiasm and good musical execution, but, as a chorus, their sound is not distinguished. I will be the first to admit that the recording does not do them any favors. The sound quality is overly bright, and the chorus distant. Balances are poor with regard to all three of the lower voices underwhelming in quantity. However the quality of sound, particularly from the tenors and basses, is just not all that remarkable. Focus of vowel on sustained notes is lacking in unity resulting in some imprecise tuning. The presence of sound is insufficient and somewhat breathy, most obviously in "There Is a Garden in Her Face" (from Fancies) where the tenors alone lay out the melody. Homogeneity of vowel tends to betray all sections in Grainger’s longing “Londonderry Air,” when the long phrases are sung on an “Ah” vowel.

Musically, their instincts tend to be admirable, but the execution of such tends to be lacking. Connected phrases tend to be made through overt crescendos that disrupt the texture. Consonants are abundant in an effort to provide good diction, but the murkiness of vowel combined with lack of precision tends to not be all that effective. The sopranos seem to come across best on the recording, which may be in large part to the recording quality. Their contribution to "Lamorna," is perfectly intelligible and infectious. Unfortunately, the other sections are not on the same ability level and seem to lag ever so slightly behind rhythmically, as in "Black Sheep."

Still, this disc does have some great music. The folk songs, particularly "Down By The Sally Gardens" and "Swansea Town," are gems. The St. Charles Singers' character of sound serves these songs better than the Rutter Fancies. The issue is that you will be able to find a better sounding and a better executed recording of this music and, given the unmemorable nature of the Rutter piece, there is not much here to miss.

Richard Matthew Martinez




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