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John RUTTER (b.1947)
The John Rutter Songbook
rec. 1994-2014, various  locations.
CLASSIC FM CFMD36 [76:22 + 73:42]

Here it is, just in time for Christmas – an Utterly Rutterly two-CD feast of seasonal indulgence. For many people – particularly members of choral societies up and down the land – Christmas would genuinely not be Christmas without a generous smattering of Rutter's perennial favourites. Many of them are here; CD 1 is entirely devoted to numbers for this time of year, while CD 2 ranges wider, covering anthems, folk-song arrangements and other goodies. This is going to make someone - possibly quite a lot of someones - the most perfect ever of stocking-fillers.

John Rutter is an immensely gifted composer who has never received the approval of the more severe end of the musical establishment. For heaven’s sake, his music is gorgeous to sing and play, not unduly difficult, and even sounds rather lovely. All those non-singing uncles, aunts, grandmothers and second cousins who get press-ganged along to concerts find themselves getting far more from it than they ever thought they could from ‘modern’ music.

He means his music; it is ‘commercial’ in the sense that it sells copies, CDs and concert tickets galore but there is nothing shoddy or cynical about it. Yes, there are some pieces that are perhaps a little bit too ‘Songs of Praise’ to be really comfortable but that’s just me. Even then I have to admire the superb professionalism and craftsmanship that goes into everything he does.

Looking at CD 1 with its Christmas programme, we find a nice mixture of traditional carols (‘Once in Royal’, ‘Hark! The herald’ etc.) together with Rutter originals (‘Star Carol’, ‘Christmas Lullaby’, Shepherd’s Pipe Carol’), and his arrangements of other Christmas songs (the German ‘Still, Still, Still’, the Catalan folk-song ‘El Noi de la Mare’), including a particularly attractive version of ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’ that I for one hadn’t encountered before. Track 18 contains a new carol, ‘Christ is the Morning Star’, that will be of particular interest to choral directors everywhere. Twenty delightful tracks, artfully arranged so that you get a constant contrast of mood and character.

CD 2 has some of his best-known anthems, including the wonderful ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’, whose simplicity and beauty never fails to move me. There are some songs, too, which are written for children to sing, such as ‘Look at the World’ and the endearing ‘Magical Kingdom’. Rutter has the knack of writing for children in a way that is approachable yet entirely without condescension, and true to his own style.

The selection here is greatly enlivened by one or two numbers from his larger-scale works – ‘Pie Jesu’ from the Requiem, and ‘Steal Away’ from ‘Feel the Spirit’. There are a few purely instrumental items, of which the most interesting, as well as the most odd, is the second movement of his ‘Beatles Concerto’, a fantasy on the tune ‘Here there and everywhere’. It takes Lennon’s pleasant ditty for a walk in some pretty distinguished company – Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Ravel all put in an appearance before the tune returns in its simple guise. This has to be tongue-in-cheek, but it’s certainly fun.

Only ‘Christ is the Morning Star’ is a brand new recording; everything else has been collected from the many recordings Rutter has made with his various collaborators over the years. That said, it has certainly not been thrown together; each CD contains an interesting and well constructed programme.

All in all, then, this is Rutter Heaven for his many, many fans and admirers throughout the musical world. Enjoy.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

Contents & Performer List
CD 1
Once in Royal David’s City ; O Holy Night ; Tomorrow Shall Be my Dancing Day; Silent Night; Away in a manger; Star Carol; In the Bleak Midwinter; God rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; Angels We Have Heard on High; Joy to the World; Christmas Lullaby; Angels’ Carol; Three Kings from orient; El Noi de la Mare; Still, Still, Still; Nativity Carol; Christ is the Morning Star; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; New year
CD 2
Look at the World; Wedding Canticle; Amazing Grace; Chanson; The Lord is my Light and my Salvation; All Things Bright and Beautiful; Pie Jesu; Steal Away; The Lord Bless You and Keep You; A Prayer of St. Patrick; This is the Day; O Waly, Waly; Beatles Concerto (2nd mvt.); Magical Kingdom; Golden Slumbers; Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind; Down By the Sally Gardens; A Clare Benediction; Lullaby for Pegi; A Gaelic Blessing
Clara Sanabras (soprano), Caroline Ashton (soprano), Melanie Marshall (mezzo), Richard Pearce (organ), Jane Mitchell (flute), Stewart French (guitar), Thelma Owen (harp), Stuart Nicholson (flute), David Rix (clarinet), John Birch (harpsichord), Peter Rostal and Paul Schaefer (pianos), Catrin Finch (harp), The Bach Choir, Farnham Youth Choir, The Cambridge Singers, The Oxford Choir, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia, BBC Concert Orchestra, Aurora Orchestra, Sinfonia Cymru/John Rutter