Rutter’s Joyful Psalmfest

Review by: David Vernier


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Composer John Rutter knows how to do “joy”; and his Psalmfest, a set of nine Psalms written over a period of 20 years and organized into a 50-minute concert work, is nothing if not joyful. The texts certainly have a lot to do with this: virtually all nine—including “O be joyful in the Lord” (Psalm 100), “Praise the Lord, O my soul (Psalm 146), and “O clap your hands” (Psalm 47)—are of the praise and jubilation variety. Anyone familiar with Rutter’s style—the bubbly woodwinds, the fanfare-like brass, the pop-influenced, word-and-singer-friendly melodic and harmonic structures, the triplet and duplet figures—will be at home here.

Yet, there is also great variety in Rutter’s treatments—all is not fast and loud, lively and dancing. “I will lift up mine eyes” (Psalm 121) is mellow, lyrical, and sweet, “The Lord is my light and my salvation” (Psalm 27) opens with a tenor solo that sounds almost like it could be a Broadway show love ballad (answered later by a soprano) before becoming more involved with chorus and orchestra in one of the set’s longer movements. At the center of the work are “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23) and “Cantate Domino” (Psalm 96). The former appeared in Rutter’s beloved 1985 Requiem; here the original version for choir, one of Rutter’s enduringly lovely creations, is changed to include soprano and baritone soloists—not to its betterment, I’m afraid. The latter effectively combines a vibrant multi-part choral part with the unison chant “Veni Creator Spiritus”.

The program concludes with three more Psalm settings—This is the day; Lord, Thou hast been our refuge; and Psalm 150—that confirm Rutter’s place as one of our century’s shapers of popular choral taste. “This is the day” is perhaps the most Rutter-like of them all, a sound and style that somehow just reminds you of Christmas—or spring; “Lord, Thou hast been our refuge” opens with a Britten-esque trumpet solo followed by an Anglican-chant-like choral section; Psalm 150 perfectly captures the spirit of both psalm and “fest”, with the brightly exuberant brass and organ, and the energetic, joyous chorus.

The performances by the St. Albans Cathedral Choir and Royal Philharmonic are first rate. Soloists may be variable in quality, but no one can question their commitment to Rutter’s music. Rutter acolytes will already be on to this, an exemplary collection that celebrates a composer whose work throughout his career has reflected the message of these psalms: hopeful, expectant, upbeat.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

    Psalmfest (1993); This is the day (2011); Lord, Thou hast been our refuge (2008); Psalm 150 (2002)

    The Choirs of St. Albans Cathedral, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrew Lucas

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