Swiss composer Carl Rütti has something of a history with English choirs. Groups like Cambridge Voices have performed much of his sacred choral repertoire. The composer himself trained in England after a period of study in Zurich and was evidently much affected by the English choral sound. Though his sound-world mixes English influences others such as jazz and blues along with his own natural French accent.
His Requiem started out as a 20 minute commission from the Bach Choir but managed to grow to a work lasting around an hour. The choir had specified that the orchestration used had to be analogous to that used for the Fauré Requiem (strings, harp and organ) in order to make the work accessible to as great a number of choirs as possible. There is also a version for organ alone.
Rütti sets the Latin text of the mass, choosing the Introit, Kyrie, Offertorium, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Communio and In Paradisum. In common with composers such as Fauré and Duruflé, he chooses not to set the Dies Irae. The soprano and the baritone soloists both have substantial parts, and they sing in all seven movements. In fact, it struck me that this might have been a deliberate ploy on Rütti’s part as it would be a way of enlarging the work without making learning it too onerous for an amateur choir.
Rütti’s writes for double choir and even in the unaccompanied sections, creates some wonderfully rich textures. Though he often uses bitonality, his style is essentially tonal and melodic. The textures and harmonies of this piece often reminded me of Howells, though Howells spoken with something of a French accent. Duruflé also springs to mind, but Rütti’s music is less drenched in plainchant. His textures, though rich, have a transparency and elegance which makes the music achingly beautiful at times.
The Introit starts the work unaccompanied, with just one solo voice. The whole piece similarly closes with a lone voice, representing the fact that we both come into and go out of the world alone. The Introit is generally a serene and beautiful movement, so it comes as something of a surprise to find that the Kyrie is far noisier, becoming an intense cry for pity with driving rhythms and substantial double chorus parts.
The Offertorium continues this mood and is the work’s longest movement. It draws on music written for earlier pieces and serves as the Dies Irae that Rütti did not write. His structure in the longer movements is often very episodic, so that the Offertorium seems to be far more extensive than the simple tripartite structure used by most composers. The composer’s own view of the work, as quoted in the notes, is sometimes at odds with what I could hear. For instance, at the end of the Offertorium the organ ‘is used to symbolize God appearing to the soul after death’. Perhaps it helps to know these things, perhaps not.
The Sanctus and Benedictus are rather lower key movements than in the Agnus Dei. Rütti reduces the scoring to just soloists, reduced strings and harp. This lovely movement is written in memory of two close friends, who were singers with Cambridge Voices. Finally the Communio and In Paradisum return to the serene mood of the opening, with the music gradually fading out, though I felt that Rütti’s multi-sectional writing in the In Paradisum, gives the music a somewhat disjointed structure.
Rütti’s Requiem has some beautiful sections. It is extremely approachable but does not talk down to the listener in the way of much popular contemporary sacred music. The music is finely crafted and receives a finely honed performance here from the Bach Choir and the Southern Sinfonia. The choir manage some of Rütti’s tricky part-writing with aplomb and sounds quite at home in his sound-world. There is very little sense of the strain of doing a premiere recording and both the choir and the orchestra relish Rütti’s textures. All is kept on an even keel with fine aplomb by David Hill, who demonstrates a strong sympathy with Rütti’s idiom and shapes the various movements flexibly. Both soloists, Olivia Robinson and Edward Price, contribute notable moments and organist Jane Watts never dominates despite the at times difficult organ part.
For anyone interested in approachable, beautiful contemporary sacred music, this work is highly recommendable. Granted, it never quite reaches either the heights or the depths of past works, but it possesses much that is lovely.