A Christmas Festival / Rutter, RPO, Cambridge Singers
Fans of John Rutter--and particularly of his Christmas music and programs--will certainly rejoice and be merry with the release of this, "the first all-new Christmas recording from John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers for 20 years". Listeners familiar with the Cambridge Singers' half-dozen or so earlier Christmas albums will be especially pleased to find the premieres of five new Rutter works and 10 new arrangements. Opening and (almost) closing the disc are two old favorites: David Willcocks' arrangements of O come all ye faithful and Hark! the herald angels sing--but with newly written fanfares by Rutter, whose annual London Christmas Festival concerts provided the idea and much of the material for this program.
As for Rutter's original pieces--Ave Maria; Rejoice and be merry; Magical Kingdom; New Year; I wish you Christmas--there are no surprises here, just more of the same instinctively tuneful lines, ingratiating, pop-flavored harmonies, and thoughtful treatment of texts that for decades have endeared his music to millions of singers and audiences. Seasoned Rutter listeners will especially savor the composer's trademark rhythmic style and harmonic changes in I wish you Christmas (which he wrote for the 2006 Festival) and New Year (a 2006 commission for Sandringham Church to celebrate the 80th birthday of Queen Elizabeth), for which he also wrote the texts.
Other notable entries are Bob Chilcott's The Shepherd's Carol, written in 2000 for the famed King's College service of Nine Lessons and Carols, and Nigel Hess' Christmas Overture, a tightly woven orchestral medley of traditional Christmas tunes written for the 2007 Festival that skillfully exploits both the full orchestra and the festive characteristics of the carols themselves.
There are several selections for solo voice as well, the most enjoyable of which are performed by Clara Sanabras (Rutter's setting of the Catalan carol El Noi de la Mare) and Melanie Marshall (two other Rutter arrangements, of Jester Hairston's Mary's Boy Child and the Caribbean carol The Virgin Mary had a baby boy).
In addition to the expectedly excellent performances by the Cambridge Singers, we also enjoy contributions by the fine Farnham Youth Choir on several tracks--and the Royal Philharmonic treats Rutter's orchestrations with appropriate style and enthusiasm. There's a big, festive feel to the sound and overall ambience of this production (recorded in London's Cadogan Hall), which absolutely suits the occasion--and Melanie Marshall's closing rendition of Have yourself a merry little Christmas (another Rutter arrangement) brings it all home with a nice personal blessing. A great job, and a welcome early Christmas present!
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
Release Date: October 27, 2008
Catalog Number: COLCD133
Composer: Anonymous, Felix Mendelssohn, Frederick Delius, Hugh Martin, Jester Hairston, John David, John Francis Wade, John Jacob Niles, John Rutter, Nigel Hess, Robert Chilcott, Traditional
Conductor: John Rutter
Orchestra/Ensemble: Cambridge Singers, Farnham Youth Choir, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Performer: Andrew Williams, Clara Sanabras, John Anderson, Melanie Marshall