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John RUTTER (b. 1945)
Mass of the Children (2002) [35:43]
Shadows (1979) [25:06]
Wedding Canticle (2004) [5:55]
Angharad Gruffydd-Jones (soprano)
Jeremy Huw Williams (baritone)
Stewart French (guitar)
Daniel Pailthorpe (flute)
James McVinnie (organ)
Farnham Youth Choir
Clare Chamber Ensemble
The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge/Timothy Brown
rec. Chapel of Tonbridge School, Kent, 19 July 2005.
NAXOS 8.557922 [66:45]

 

When I received this new disc with one of the first large works from John Rutter to appear in a while, I had my hopes up that we might have another original work the likes of The Falcon on our hands. Alas, no. Mr. Rutter has managed yet again to combine the orchestrational, textual and rhythmic gestures of Benjamin Britten with the tunes of Andrew Lloyd Webber to give us yet another thirty-five minute cliché. Rutter claims in his notes that the effect of combining children’s and adult’s voice is unique. Huh? Since when? Doesn’t every cathedral choir in England do that every week?

Perhaps his most annoying habit is the now tired trick of appending English poetry to a Latin text. It was original when Britten did it in his masterful War Requiem, but the cartoonish setting of Blake’s The Lamb in the midst of the Agnus Dei is nigh on nauseous.

The performance is found wanting too. Timothy Brown has made a number of very successful recordings with the Clare College Choir, but this one lacks the customarily fine blend of voices and tight ensemble we have come to expect from this group. There are sloppy hangovers at cut-off points, out of control vibratos in the adult chorus and some grievously out of tune woodwind playing. Brown cannot make up his mind whether to voice his Ss in the Latin (which is incorrect) or not, (which is), and thus we get a maddening combination of Miserere and Mizzerere, for example. Ms. Gruffydd-Jones has a pleasant soprano, but Mr. Williams delivers his solos with an unfocused tone and nebulous intonation due to an ungoverned vibrato.

The song-cycle Shadows fares much better than the Mass both in the quality of the music and the performance. Rutter has chosen some superlative texts, and sets them in a simple and straightforward manner. These songs are reminiscent of the music composed for Peter Pears and Julian Bream by Britten, Walton and Tippett. In fact, I found a rather remarkable similarity in Pears’ vocal timbre and that of baritone Jeremy Huw Williams. I also greatly appreciated his rather Monteverdian approach to the performances, complete with a bent note here and there and some intensely emotive singing, particularly in the Sonnet (Care-charmer sleep - Samuel Daniel). If Williams’ vibrato is a bit unwieldy at times, it can be overlooked in favor of clarity of enunciation and some very refined and well shaped phrases. Stewart French is a first rate accompanist, finding a fine ensemble with the soloist.

The program is rounded out with a typically tuneful Psalm setting for choir, flute and guitar. It is serene enough and well performed, but smacks a bit of music from the "Godspell" era, harmless enough, but not particularly earth-shattering or original.

Kevin Sutton

 



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