If you've been in an amateur choir, chances are you've performed music by John Rutter (b. 1945) at some point. (Indeed, my group in Fredericksburg, Virginia sang Rutter's Requiem in the fall of 2001.) As a youngster, Rutter attended the Highgate School in London (and was a chorister in Britten's Decca recording of his own War Requiem.) From Highgate, he flourished at Clare College at Cambridge, first as a student, and in 1975, as the College's director of music. A composer with a talent for ennobling simplicity, he found popular success in his early thirties with his Gloria, and since then, he has focused on expanding the choral repertoire, and on developing his ensemble, The Cambridge Singers. Several of the works on this CD were written for the Choir of Clare College, however, and so it is appropriate that this group performs them here, under the director of Timothy Brown, Rutter's successor in 1979.
The death of Rutter's father spurred the creation of his Requiem (1985), a work indebted to Gabriel Fauré's sole contribution to that same genre. At times mournful, and at other times gently consoling, there's little about it that smells of brimstone. Rutter writes in a thoroughly classical idiom (there's no Andrew Lloyd Webber-ish "pop" here) and does nothing to chase away listeners who usually balk at modern music. If "sweet" is the word that comes to mind most often when I hear (and perform) Rutter's Requiem, I hasten to add that Rutter skillfully skirts the merely cloying and facile. I guess the message is that this Requiem belongs to everyone, not just to Rutter, and certainly not just to music critics. (Ask not for whom the bell tolls, right?) Poignantly, Rutter's son Christopher was a student at Clare when he was killed in an automobile accident in 2001. This recording is dedicated to his memory. This is the première recording of the version for chamber orchestra; Rutter's own recording (on the Collegium label) is of the orchestral version. I really think most people will be happy with Brown and Clare College, however, particularly if all they want is a reminder of their own involvement in the work, as I do. The singing is touching and intimate, and technically accomplished without calling attention to itself. Kudos to soprano Elin Manahan Thomas who negotiates the occasional solo line with humble radiance.
The CD is filled out generously with more of Rutter's choral work; the Clare Benediction is another favorite of amateur choral societies. Rutter's skill in writing appealing music that is both pure and warm is evident throughout. The two organ pieces present a less familiar side of the composer. I am glad to report that Rutter's writing for organ is on a par with his writing for chorus, although it would have made more sense to close the disc with more of latter – Rutter is nothing if not prolific. The recording was made not at Clare College, but at the Douai Abbey in Berkshire. The engineering is rich, but it doesn't allow the notes to drown in their own echoes.
Slipcase packaging increases the appeal of this Naxos CD. This is an interesting road that Naxos has taken, and I hope that the label will return to Clare College and Rutter's music.
Copyright © 2003, Raymond Tuttle