Death of an English tenor, 85

Death of an English tenor, 85


norman lebrecht

December 18, 2016

The BBC Singers choral manager Rob Johnston has shared sad news of the death of his father, David Johnston, at the age of 85.

A widely-engaged performer, David started out in the Glyndebourne chorus in the mid-1960s and went on to make several recordings.

Our condolences to the family.


  • Dorset Richard says:

    I believe David Johnston performed Abraham and Isaac / Britten with his son. Was that Rob?

  • Rob Johnston says:

    Thank you for your kind words and for sharing this recording. Rob.

  • Una says:

    I remember the first time I sang with David we were both two of four soloists in a performance of Saul in the 1980s in Deale. Delightful to work with and with him being considerably older and more experienced than me, he looked after me as I was starting out on my career.

  • Jennifer Hyde says:

    We are so very sorry to hear this news. As members of various different choirs, we worked with David on many occasions and he frequently came to stay with us. Sadly, we lost contact some years ago but we have many happy memories of working with him – last time was a Verdì Requiem in Ely Cathedral.

  • Fanny Cooke says:

    I remember him well from the St Endellion Festival in the early 70s. I went, as a double bassist, for the first time in 1973 and he sang the Britten Serenade, with Richard Hickox conducting. I’d never heard the piece before and it, and his singing of it, knocked me sideways.
    A few years ago I was singing at Clare College, Cambridge – Spem in Alium with the current choir plus alumni. He came into the chapel and listened to the rehearsal. I went and thanked him for that Britten, some 40 years ago, and he seemed genuinely touched that I remembered – well, I’ll never forget it!

  • Garry Humphreys says:

    So sorry to hear this news, which I discovered only after Googling David’s name while writing a letter to the ‘Gramophone’ to complain that the new Lyrita CD issue of the 1986 BBC broadcast of Geoffrey Bush’s ‘Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime’ (with David in the title role) gives his surname as Johnson(!) and, of course, this is perpetuated in all the reviews!

    David and I were good friends in the 1970s/80s, brought together by John Bishop; I remember page-turning for Daphne Ibbott at a Purcell Room concert in which you and Nicolas sang as boy trebles with your father. Do you remember? We shared many train journeys up to London from out-of-town concerts.

    He was a wonderful singer, and I’ve said so in my ‘Gramophone’ letter, and in his recordings there was a presence and an immediacy of a live performance. Mark Tatlow once said he was the greatest Florestan he ever heard (Kent Opera) and he attended every performance just to hear David sing. I’m so sorry we lost touch over the last 20 years or so. He was a great singer and I miss him, and I always meant to get in touch, never quite succeeded and now it’s too late. But the heavenly choir is no doubt delighted to have him!

  • Richard Winch says:

    I have a tape of David performing the tenor solo in Beethoven’s Mass in C. It was recorded at St Jame’s Church Piccadilly on the 10th May 1983. (I was the Bass soloist despite being a baritone)! If you’d like a copy Rob, I can transfer it to CD.

    • Rob Johnston says:

      Hi Richard. Thanks for letting me know about this recording. I’d love a CD copy if that’s not too much trouble? I’ll have to think of a way of letting you know my address that’s not on a public forum!
      Many thanks.

      • Richard Winch says:

        Hi Rob. Of course I can send you a copy. Maybe you could send a private message to my Facebook page (if you are on that site). So you don’t confuse me with any other Richard Winch, my photo shows me wearing a black and white check suit, standing in a somewhat theatrical pose! If you’re not on Facebook, let me know and we can think of another way of contacting each other. By the way, I did enjoy working with your father all those years ago. He was a lovely man!


  • D Giddings says:

    I find this page as I am enjoying Mr Johnston’s excellent LP of Warlock songs. What a joy it is, Mr Johnson’s generation is probably the last with the social & cultural background to do justice to this kind-of repertoire. I raise a glass in tribute to a sad loss!

  • Toni Del Mar says:

    Dear Rob
    I only just got told about David and Tony Burton forwarded me this link.
    As you may remember, I first met David in the late 1960’s ( !968 perhaps) at Prussia Cove singing the Messiah with Roger Norrington. We performed in Penzance and Truro Cathedral.I gave you and Nicolas a lift to London, as little boys! Then I performed with him at St Endellion ( even pre Richard Hickox) and many many performances all over England, from Hull to Harrow with the Capriol Orchestra. And of course, when he joined the Wells Cathedral Choir much later, when my son was a tiny chorister there. I was with him at Nicolas’s funeral, listening to Abraham and Isaac. Many memories. Warmest wishes to you, and enjoy your new job (maybe not so new!).

    • Robert Johnston says:

      Dear Toni,
      Many thanks for your message and memories of Dad. Of course, I do remember you! Apologies that news of Dad hadn’t reached you before now.
      Hoping all is well with you?

  • CD says:

    I sang in the chorus, in Fidelio, with Kent Opera.
    His was an emotionally intense, musical performance.
    I also heard him perform Gerontius. His interpretation was so heart felt & emotional. He was a very musical performer, with superb diction.

  • John Dexter says:

    Sorry this a few years too late! Just seen this note of David’s death. He tought me in Oxford 1972-74 before I went to RCM to study with Norman Del Mar (I assume your poster Toni is a relation? – happy memories of study weekend in his Barnet home …). David was inspiring and patient. Thank you.
    John Dexter (Dublin)

  • Emma Bosworth says:

    Dear Mr Johnston ,
    I was sorry to read about the death of your father I got to know him while working in Wells Cathedral and the bishops palace and being part of the Oratorio Society obviously hearing him sing too , in various concerts what an amazing voice and lovely man too , one I will never forget his kindness and support to me through all the difficult times ive had to still endure , up to this day .

  • Sara says:

    So sorry to hear of your father’s passing. This evening we came across a letter he had written to my parents after he sang ‘Panis Angelicus’ at our wedding. He had been teaching me singing prior to this and he encouraged me greatly. This brings back happy memories. We heard him sing on other occasions too and he will always be fondly remembered.