Review by: David Vernier

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 9

Fans of John Rutter will find much to enjoy here, especially if they haven’t heard this enormously popular English composer’s relatively recent works–the title piece, for instance, written in 1999 for a Canterbury Cathedral concert–or rarely recorded pieces such as the Birthday Madrigals or Five Childhood Lyrics. Although Rutter himself, with his Cambridge Singers, has recorded these last two sets of choral songs for Collegium, these new versions by the Germany-based Nordic Chamber Choir are every bit as fine as the composer’s own. This first rate ensemble–expertly directed by Nicol Matt–has full command not only of all the requisite technical skills, but shows a complete mastery of idiom and language. Those familiar with Rutter’s more typical harmonic/melodic mannerisms will be surprised to hear the dark, dense-textured, richly colored I my Best Beloved’s am, which opens the program. Unusually for Rutter, it makes its effect less with melody and rhythm and more with sheer vocal color and texture and masterful development of thematic material. The lovely melodic bits perfectly enhance rather than dominate.

The five Birthday Madrigals, written to celebrate the 75th birthday of jazz pianist George Shearing, show their jazz influences with jumping rhythms and lively tunes, accented by the use of double bass and piano. For some reason this choir doesn’t use the piano–you can hear that on the Collegium recording titled “Feel the Spirit”, with pianist Wayne Marshall–but the singing and the music here are so infectious that you don’t really miss it! Other highlights are the a cappella Five Childhood Lyrics (short settings of favorite English nursery rhymes) which, you could argue, these German singers perform even better than their counterparts across the Channel (heard on Collegium’s disc titled “Fancies”). But no matter which choir sings them, it’s wonderful to be reminded of the energy and sharp-witted invention that characterize these youthful (1972) pieces.

We’re also reminded why Rutter is so loved by choral singers: pieces such as “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John” (Childhood Lyrics) and “Draw on, sweet night” (from Birthday Madrigals) are simply gorgeous; and “Sing a song of sixpence”, “The owl and the pussycat”, “Windy nights”, and “Dashing away with the smoothing iron” are just so darn fun to sing! My only (slight) complaint about this recording is that the church acoustics are just a bit too resonant, a condition that occasionally obscures and/or distorts otherwise ideal balances. You won’t mind much, however, because the exemplary performances and terrific music will have you wishing the program were longer. More, please!

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Madrigals & Childhood Lyrics, selected Folksongs: Cambridge Singers/Rutter (Collegium), this one

JOHN RUTTER - Birthday Madrigals; Five Childhood Lyrics; Five sacred works (including Cantate domino & Hymn to the Creator of Light); Folksong arrangements (including O waly, waly; Golden slumbers; Dashing away with a smoothing iron)

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