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Rob Strusinski
Choral Journal, November 2012

At least six recordings of Rutter’s Gloria (1974) are available, as well as several separate combinations of his equally brilliant Te Deum (1988) and Magnificat (1990), but for the first time, this spectacular issue features all three works performed by the distinguished Choirs of St Albans Cathedral.

Rutter’s path was successfully carved in the early 1970s with a number of attractive small works but it was his Gloria that gained him wider fame. In many ways this version, conducted by Andrew Lucas and accompanied by organist Tim Penny and the brass/chamber orchestra of Ensemble DeChorum, is a zenith performance. The chorus sings with deft, crisp diction, brilliant range of power and dynamics, and the brass octet and percussion are an absolutely thrilling capstone. Kudos also go to the boy soprano who sings with full, lush resonance.

The Magnificat, in Rutter’s own words, is a “bright Latin-flavoured fiesta” and certainly fits his colorful description. Its range of style and spirit—from pure, plaintive chant to powerful, stirring excitement—is gripping throughout the work. Soprano Elizabeth Craig sings with soaring sweetness at every turn.

The Te Deum springs from a rather more Anglican soil, celebrating a centenary thanksgiving service in Canterbury Cathedral. As with the Gloria, the accompaniment is for brass, timpani, percussion, and organ. It is a worthy and magnificent work… © 2012 Choral Journal

Philip Greenfield
American Record Guide, September 2011

The Gloria is given a deft performance that’s a bit too small and careful to rival Rutter’s own. But the delightful Magnificat is as good as any. Cleobury (EMI) did it well but this is better; lighter, brighter, and more sumptuously recorded. The ‘Esurientes’, which might be the loveliest Rutter interlude of all, is sung gorgeously by soprano Elizabeth Cragg. (Cleobury used a choirboy, with predictably pale results.) Here the work is heard in the composer’s scaled-down version for choir, organ, and chamber orchestra. If the jacket hadn’t mentioned it, I wouldn’t have noticed. (Or cared, for that matter.) The 8-minute Te Deum also goes well. Here’s hoping these folks get a crack at Rutter’s Requiem with the same engineering crew in tow. English and Latin texts are supplied. For the Magnificat, exit Cleobury and enter Lucas.

Malcolm Riley
Gramophone, August 2011

John Rutter’s effective choral classics in scrupulous, sparkling performances

Although best known for his many carols and anthems, John Rutter is equally adept at handling music on a larger canvas. His reflective Requiem (now 25 years old) is an established classic. Much the same can be said of the evergreen 1974 setting of the Gloria, Rutter’s first major overseas commission. Its incisive, punchy, syncopated brass opening lingers memorably, setting the scene for some spectacular, polished and vibrant singing. The notoriously taxing finale is accomplished without a wobble, resulting in a deeply satisfying performance.

By way of lighter contrast, the Magnificat (1990) is imbued with a Latin-flavoured atmosphere of fiesta and celebration, the streetwise “Fecit potentiam” movement receiving a really mean and moody attack. What a delight it is to hear the chamber version and to marvel at Rutter’s scoring finesse, in particular his wind-writing, which is a model of effectiveness. Soprano soloist Elizabeth Cragg is especially melting in the delicious “Esurientes” movement.

The disc concludes with the 1988 setting of the Te Deum (not to be confused with the more recent Winchester Te Deum). While initially less arresting than the disc’s other works, the big tune towards the end is worthy of Walton, whose ceremonial spirit hovers over this beautiful music.

Andrew Lucas’s St Albans choristers (particularly the girls and boys, united on the top line) are on sparkling form, with first-class support from organist Tom Winpenny and the Ensemble DeChorum who scrupulously adhere to every one of the score’s markings. More recordings from St Albans, please—and could someone ask Rutter to score a major film?

John Quinn
MusicWeb International, June 2011

This recording has been warmly received on Musicweb by Nick Barnard (in CD form) and Brian Wilson (download). Naxos already have in their catalogue excellent versions of Rutter’s Mass of the Children and his beautiful Requiem. Now they add this collection of significant choral works. Competition is fierce in the shape of the composer’s own recordings of the Gloria and of the Magnificat—he’s also recorded the Te Deum on a disc of his shorter choral works. In addition there’s a very fine Hyperion disc by Polyphony and Stephen Layton, which includes the Gloria. However, this newcomer can more than hold up its head in this company. It also enjoys a point of differentiation over both the Rutter and Layton recordings, both of which use mixed adult choirs whereas this Naxos CD allows us to hear boy and girl trebles as well as male altos; that gives a nice edge to the choral sound.

The composer himself has written the booklet note and it’s a good one—he writes here at slightly greater length than he usually does for his own Collegium label. Writing of the Gloria he makes a very interesting point. The piece was Rutter’s first major overseas commission and the call came from an American choral director, the late Mel Olson. Mr Olson was very specific in his commissioning requirements and even came over to meet Rutter in the UK to discuss the proposed piece. Rutter is generous in talking of Olson’s contribution not just to the creative process around this work but also in a way that clearly influenced Rutter’s future output: “Much of the credit must go to Mel Olson…because, in telling me what he was looking for in a new choral work, he was telling me what thousands of other choral directors were looking for too.”

That seems to me to make two key points about John Rutter’s music and about the success that it’s enjoyed over the years. Firstly, he writes music that people want to perform and to hear. Secondly, his music, though enjoyable to perform is not always as easy as it sounds: it challenges the performers without putting insuperable obstacles in their path. I sang in the Gloria some years ago: it was great fun and highly effective but it also contains several traps for the unwary, especially in the third movement. Likewise the opening pages of the Requiem are testing. And only recently I spoke with a friend of mine who has several decades of choral experience, including a stint in the Ambrosian Singers. He related that the choir with which he currently sings, which is directed by one of the UK’s well-known chorus masters, had just performed the Magnificat and he admitted that they had found some passages very tricky. So while John Rutter’s music may be engaging it should never be underestimated.

The present performances are splendidly assured and delivered with great enthusiasm. The Gloria and Te Deum are both scored for SATB chorus with brass, percussion and organ. The outer sections of the three-movement Gloria are really exciting here and in the final movement the quirky fugue (‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’) is tossed off with panache. The more reflective central movement features some well-taken treble and alto solos. In the lively outer movements the accompaniment is sharp and punchy, as it should be.

The Magnificat—another American commission—is a more substantial piece, laid out in seven movements and Rutter incorporates some other, very relevant words into the text of the canticle itself. Much of the music is buoyant and festive and all those parts are well done. However, there’s more powerful music to be found in the third movement, ‘Quia fecit mihi magna’, where the singers deliver the choral fanfares strongly. And in the fifth section, ‘Fecit potentiam’, the jazzy, slightly menacing rhythms are brought off very well. There’s an important part for a soprano soloist and Elizabeth Cragg offers some pleasing singing. Some may feel that her vibrato is a little on the rich side but she sings expressively.

This disc contains highly enjoyable music and it sounds as if the performers were relishing the experience. Whilst the other recordings, mentioned above, are by no means displaced Andrew Lucas and his admirable St Alban’s forces offer a very valid alternative and at the Naxos price it deserves to be snapped up by a lot of collectors.

Mary Kunz Goldman
The Buffalo News, May 2011

A few years ago, on a nasty night, Buffalo’s Ars Nova Musicians performed Rutter’s 40-minute-long Magnificat at St Joseph’s Cathedral and when it ended, a woman in front of me turned around. “Well,” she said, “that was sure worth coming out here for.” With his fanfares, timpani, soaring vocals and jingly excitement, Rutter does give you your money’s worth. …it’s a lot of fun—a beaming, bright-timbred expression of faith. The Choirs of St Albans Cathedral, operating out of an old Benedictine abbey dissolved by Henry VIII, sing the music with light-hearted grace.

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, May 2011

Not surprisingly—and most certainly not without merit—Naxos and Classicsonline are making a feature of this recording. I know that there are some church-music traditionalists who dislike Rutter’s music, but I’m not among them. Certainly he gives a lift to the music, but his settings are in a direct line of descent from those of his predecessors in a way that ad hoc guitar strumming at Mass can never be. A cathedral or collegiate choir like that of St Alban’s who perform here could use these three settings at the principal Sunday services alongside plainsong or renaissance polyphony for the other items without a sense of dichotomy. Yes, some part of the Gloria are (gloriously) brash but there are some really wonderful quiet and contemplative moments, too, especially in the Magnificat.

There are several fine recordings in the catalogue, not least that of Gloria, Te Deum and shorter works on Hyperion CDA67259. Classicsonline already offer Rutter’s own recording of the Gloria on his own Collegium label but the new recording, alert to all aspects of Rutter’s music, can look these predecessors in the eye. Strongly recommended: any recording that could keep me listening intently while the neighbours noisily power-hosed their patio for most of its duration must be beyond praise.

David Vernier, April 2011

John Rutter’s Gloria has been enormously—and justifiably—popular ever since its premiere in the now-ancient year 1974 (it was commissioned by the Voices of Mel Olson, Omaha, Nebraska, and conducted by the composer on his first visit to the U.S.) and following its subsequent recording by Rutter and his Cambridge Singers 10 years later in the early days of the CD. Rutter supplies very interesting information regarding the origin and history of this and the program’s other works in the disc’s liner notes.

This recording combines the voices of the St. Albans Abbey Girls Choir, St. Albans Cathedral Choir, and the cutely-named instrumental group Ensemble DeChorum. The performances are generally very fine—no question as to these singers’ familiarity with and appreciation for Rutter’s music. And it’s hard not to get caught up in the overall excitement—Rutter ideally captures the festive, celebratory nature of these texts while offering plenty of his signature melodies, catchy rhythmic structures, and vibrant orchestration, involving powerfully expressive brass, percussion, and organ in the Gloria and Te Deum.

…the rarely heard Magnificat in a terrific performance…solid and recommendable…, April 2011

Modern composers do not work only in instrumental forms, of course. John Rutter’s Gloria has been around for quite a while by modern standards—it dates to 1974—and it is an impressive work, celebratory and dramatic and altogether joyful. Rutter’s Te Deum (1988) is forthright and joyous as well, while his 1990 Magnificat (which contain a movement called “Of a Rose, a Lovely Rose” amid the Latin ones) comes across as genuinely festive. The new Naxos CD of these pieces has bright, attractive sound that complements the music quite well; the disc shows that even overtly religious music is being handled in some new and attractively surprising ways by some modern composers.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2011

Three of John Rutter’s sacred choral works from his earlier years, the Gloria being the first to bring him international recognition. His music has been described elsewhere as ‘commercial’, which can be translated as ‘readily accessible’. The scores are melodic, tonal, rhythmically interesting and with those spicy harmonies that give it credibility in the world of modern music. The Gloria dates from 1974, when the composer was twenty-nine, and was the result of a commission from America, its three movements ending in a vivacious riot of choral joy in a fast running vivace. Fourteen years later the UK’s Guild of Church Musicians asked him to write a suitable piece to mark their centenary. The result was the short Te Deum, Walton’s celebratory music hovering in the background mixed with Britten’s harmonies, Rutter supplying the thematic material upon which he uses these inspirations. The Magnificat is the most recent score from 1990, commissioned by a New York organisation and scored for large chorus and orchestra. It contains those jazzy rhythms that have become Rutter’s trademark, and also, in such sections as Of a Rose, a lovely Rose, the creamy passages that could well sit in a Hollywood film backdrop. It is here performed by a much smaller group of singers and chamber orchestra, but I enjoy the sparse texture which opens up the delicate beauty of the quieter passages. That is not to say that the St Albans choirs lack anything in impact, the whole disc enjoying their excellent vocal quality, impeccable intonation and, at the appropriate moments, their sacred input. Ensemble DeChorum, a recently formed chamber orchestra, adds the virile backdrop while Andrew Lucas, who is responsible for fashioning the choir, is very much into the Rutter mode. Elizabeth Cragg the silvery voiced solo soprano, Tom Winpenny the organist. Very strongly recommended.

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