John RUTTER (b.1945)
O Praise the Lord of Heaven - Music of rejoicing and reflection
O Praise the Lord of Heaven
The peace of God
A Choral Fanfare
Christ the Lord is risen again
I will lift up mine eyes
All creatures of our God and King
The King of love my Shepherd is
Go forth into the world in peace
Behold, the tabernacle of God
A Choral Amen
The Falcon (Vivace e ritmico; Lento; Passacaglia)
Now thank we all our God
The Cambridge Singers; Choristers of St. Paul’s Cathedral/John Rutter
John Scott (organ); Andrew Lucas (organ); Thelma Owen (harp)
rec. 1986-2005, various locations
COLLEGIUM RECORDS CSCD522 [75:20]
This disc sets out a selection of John Rutter's works, recorded between 1986 and 2005 and brought together under the theme of "Rejoicing and Reflection". Rutter is well known throughout the world for his religious compositions, so the title is unsurprising. This collection however is not the usual Rutter music that seems to be churned out mindlessly again and again in the choral community. There was a lot of material here that I had never heard before, and it exposed me to a side of Rutter that was brand new to me. I enjoyed it immensely.
I appreciated all of the music on this disc, including the hymn arrangements - which are often hit and miss with me - they're either good or very, very bad. Fortunately, these fell into the former category; I'd love to perform them myself. They were great takes on classic favourites including “Amazing Grace”, “Now thank we all our God” and “All creatures of our God and King”. Not only that, but the instruments and voices blended wonderfully. This is something that is true for the disc as a whole - the blend is absolutely superb, regardless of the number of vocal and instrumental forces involved. The orchestra and organ do not overwhelm the choir, which is always a potential problem when bring such large ensembles together. Each grouping has been stacked and placed very well to avoid this, and it shows. The highlight of the hymns for me was the a cappella verse of "All creatures of our God and King". It was absolutely breath-taking and it left me with chills. This is music that is harmonically complex and full of subtleties but without detriment to the melody. Spot on.
The Cambridge Singers and City of London Sinfonia have the lion's share of this disc. They present amazing performances: very clear diction, tuning and a great sense of blend within the choir, as well as very expressive playing from the orchestra. One thing that this compilation album highlights is the choir's consistency over nearly twenty years. Achieving this over such a prolonged period is astounding, and certainly shows the Cambridge Singers occupying the very highest echelons of choral music practice. Thought it is a small point, I feel I should point out that on this disc, at various points, the Cambridge Singers field both female altos and countertenors. It can be a difficult task to blend altos and counter-tenors with such professionalism. As a counter-tenor myself, it is something I deal with in much of my choral singing work. Here, however, it is made to sound effortless, the alto section creating a very rich and polished sound. That's just how it should be done.
I absolutely loved "A Choral Fanfare" and "A Choral Amen". In the 'Fanfare", the sound is somewhat reminiscent of the music of James Macmillan - another astounding British composer. The choir is particularly good here, and it shows that they are very strong indeed as an a cappella ensemble in their own right. Both of these pieces gave me goose-bumps, and the contemplative and ethereal qualities of the "Amen" were just sublime, making for an intensely emotional listening experience.
They are not the only singers on the disc. The Choristers of St. Paul's Cathedral make a brief appearance during "The Falcon" with fine singing, and very clear diction. I would have expected nothing less from these choristers. Well done. It’s a wonderful piece, by the way, and it reminded me of Rutter's "Gloria" in places.
If you are looking for a disc of accessible, contemporary inspirational music, you could do much worse than this. It left me feeling uplifted and raring to get to the concert I had that evening.
This disc is perfectly suited to its theme of rejoicing and reflection - the selection of pieces is brilliant. The music itself is fantastic and executed to an astounding level of musicianship. I have used this disc for reflection myself, and it works.
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