in 2006 British television viewers may have seen an edition
of The South Bank Show, which was devoted
to a profile of John Rutter, roughly coinciding with his
sixtieth birthday. The programme included some sequences
that showed the making of this new recording of his Mass
of the Children. The work has been recorded before,
in 2003, and that recording, by The Cambridge Singers under
the composerís baton, appeared on Rutterís own Collegium
label (COLCD 129). That release was reviewed by my colleague,
Gwyn Parry-Jones (see review).
the performance recorded for Naxos is different in that
it employs a reduced scoring for chamber ensemble and organ
as opposed to the original orchestral score. Both versions
were made by Rutter himself and, indeed, he is both the
producer and engineer for this Naxos disc. This isnít the
first time that Timothy Brown has recorded a Rutter piece
adopting the composerís own reduced scoring. He performed
a similar service for Rutterís Requiem in 2002,
a recording that was one of my Recordings of the Year in
2003 (see review).
time I donít think the results are quite as impressive
but thatís because I donít feel the music is as satisfying.
interesting to compare the two recordings. It seems to
me that, overall, the singing of Rutterís own Cambridge
Singers is just that bit crisper than that of Brownís very
good choir. The childrenís choir used on the composerís
recording demonstrates clearer diction and a brighter sound
than the Farnham Youth Choir manage. When it comes to the
soloists Rutter has the enormous advantage of Roderick
Williams, whose tone strikes me as firmer than that of
Jeremy Huw Williams. Honours are more even among the sopranos,
with both Angharad Gruffydd-Jones and Joanne Lunn (Rutter)
singing most attractively.
music is rather variable in inspiration, I think - and
I write as an admirer of John Rutter, whose music I have
both sung and listened to many times with great pleasure
over the years. The Kyrie is mellifluous and smooth but
I donít find it makes an indelible impression in the way
that some of his melodies do. And should not a setting
of words seeking divine mercy sound a bit less comfortable?
The Gloria is perky in its opening and closing sections.
The passage for the soloists in the middle of the movement
is more reflective, with an interesting staccato accompaniment.
The Sanctus starts innocently but later on parts of it
are grander. The Benedictus is definitely one for those
with a musical sweet tooth. In the Agnus Dei the setting
for children of Blakeís poem, The Lamb, is, Iím
afraid, just too precious for its own good. For me, the
best music comes in the concluding movement, Dona nobis
pacem. Here Rutter gives the baritone soloist a celebrated
prayer by Lancelot Andrews (1555-1626), ĎLord, open thou
mine eyes that eye may seeí, and sets it to one of his
characteristically grateful and memorable melodies - I
know Rutter has his detractors but how many of them can
write a damn good tune in the way that he can? At this
point I have a very clear preference for the singing of
Roderick Williams over Jeremy Huw Williams. Roderick Williams
is firmer of tone and he phrases easily and naturally.
By contrast, his rival seems to try just that bit too hard
with the words and the result is that his communication
isnít as direct. The tune is then given to the soprano,
carrying words from the fifth century text, St. Patrickís Breastplate.
All this, with the choirs adding their own contributions,
makes for a very pleasing end to the work.
Mass is pleasant enough but I donít believe itís one of
Rutterís strongest works. I certainly donít think itís
as effective as Requiem or even his Gloria.
I donít think it represents any advance on his previous
music in the way that, say, Hymn to the Creator
of Light does.
other choral anthem on the disc is a 2004 offering, Wedding
Anthem. This was a charming gift from Rutter to Timothy
Brown, who succeeded him as Director of Music at Clare
College, to mark his silver jubilee in the post. The accompaniment
for flute and guitar is unusual but it enhances the singing
and contributes to the light, airy atmosphere of the piece.
Unfortunately, my copy had a pressing fault that rendered
this track unplayable after 4:18 but by then Iíd heard
enough to form a judgement on this enjoyable piece and
the good performance it receives.
revelation on this disc is Shadows, a 1979 composition
and Rutterís only song cycle. Indeed, I donít recall hearing any solo
songs by him previously. Written to a specific commission
for baritone and guitar, itís an overt homage to the English
lute song tradition, this point being reinforced by Rutterís
choice of English poetry from the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries.
This is a fine cycle, in which Rutterís enviable melodic
gift and his responsiveness to words are much in evidence.
The first song, from which the cycle takes its name, is
very atmospheric and, with its strong melodic line, makes
for an impressive opening. The third song, entitled ĎSonnetí is
a grave nocturne that evokes the world of John Dowland
most suggestively. Itís followed by ĎThe Epicureí, which
is jolly and slightly bawdy. The longest song is the sixth, ĎO
death, rock me asleepí, which is dolefully melancholic,
but compelling listening. The lively ĎIn a goodly nightí trips
along lightly enough on the surface but if you listen closely
itís far from straightforward rhythmically. . The celebrated
text, ĎClose thine eyes, and sleep secureí makes a beautiful,
dignified close to the cycle.
was most impressed by this cycle, which is beautifully
performed by Jeremy Huw Williams, who sings very well and
with admirably clear diction - but the texts are supplied,
which is good since the lyrics are complex and are best
followed. Guitarist Stewart French partners the singer
splendidly. I count this cycle a significant discovery
and it certainly throws a new light on John Rutterís music,
even if one might have expected such a melodist to write
good songs. I just wish heíd write more for the solo voice.
My only criticism of the cycle would be that six of the
eight songs are in slow or slowish tempi and it might have
been preferable to have included one or two more where
the pace is a bit livelier.
sure this disc will sell well, and I hope it does. Most
purchasers will probably be attracted by the Mass but I
hope theyíll enjoy Shadows as well. That, for me,
is the strongest reason to recommend this disc.†
by Kevin Sutton