The Original Carols from Clare
CD 1
Shepherd's Pipe Carol (1967) [2:57]
Infant Holy, infant lowly [3:15]
Once in Royal David's City [4:01]
Quem Pastores Laudavere [2:25]
Rocking [3:52]
A nativity carol [4:10]
Eight Christmas Carols: Set 1 [10:32]
Eight Christmas Carols: Set 2 [12:33]
CD 2
O Little Town of Bethlehem [3:43]
Flemish Carol [1:30]
Twelve Christmas Carols: Set 1 [20:08]
Twelve Christmas Carols: Set 2 [18:59]
Simon Vaughan (baritone), Jeremy Blandford (organ)
Clare College Singers and Orchestra/John Rutter
rec. 9-10 November 1966, 31 January-1 February 1968, Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral, ADD
EMI CLASSICS 946947 2 [43:48 + 44:26]

I discovered John Rutter’s music with a performance of his first major work for chorus and orchestra – The Falcon (1969). If I remember correctly, he wrote this as his degree exercise and David Willcocks, as he was then, conducted the première in Cambridge and, a few days later, brought it to the Bradford Choral Society, of which he was the chief conductor, and gave it in St George’s Hall in Bradford. It is available on Collegium COLCD 114, where it is conducted by the composer, and is coupled with the Two Festival Anthems and the Magnificat. Rutter hasn’t looked back since then. He worked on OUP’s highly successful publications Carols for Choirs, and has written some of the most attractive and enjoyable choral music of the post-war period. I have been a fan since that first encounter with his work and therefore I am more than pleased to see this music, in these performances, back in the catalogue.

Rutter appeared at exactly the right time for church music. In the early 1960s it had fallen into the doldrums, with Trendy Revs, accompanied by the Happy–Clappy brigade, thinking to update music, and by default bring young people into the Church, employed local guitarists, with their friend, the drummer, to create a more contemporary sound in the Services. It was a mistake, yet examples of it can still be seen on BBC TV’s weekly programme Songs of Praise when we can all cringe in embarrassment at the naiveté of it all. What Rutter achieved was to marry a popular voice, with an obvious enthusiasm and charm and create music which is both attractive and devotional. Oddly, although Rutter has written anthems, masses, a requiem and much else, he’s never written a set of Canticles for the Evensong service. I do hope that, at some point, he will fill this gap for a Magnificat and Nunc dimittis from him would be a major addition to the repertoire.

These two disks contain 28 carols, some original, many arrangements of old favourites, clothed in Rutter’s distinctive orchestral style, in performances which simply effervesce with enthusiasm. Considering that these recordings are over 40 years old, the sound is astonishingly good, bright and clear. The notes, by Rutter himself, are a lesson in saying everything you have to say clearly and succinctly. In short, these disks are a joy. You don’t have to ration yourself to listening to them purely at Christmas, the music is too good to be kept for one time of the year. Enjoy them all the year round. I shall.

Bob Briggs

These disks are a joy.