Rutter: Requiem (CD Review - Gramophone Magazine, 1997)

Rutter Requiems

King's College Choir, Cambridge / Cleobury
Cambridge Singers / Rutter
Polyphony / Layton

Though the Requiem will no doubt be its main selling-point,  the King's disc's principal recommendation lies in the other works included, especially the three written for the choir who now record them. The Cantus, which has the single word "Alleluia" as its text, is performed with brass ensemble; What sweeter music is a setting of Herrick's carol and was composed for King's "Service of Nine Lessons and Carols" of 1987, Veni Sancte Spiritus, also with organ, was composed for this recording. The Te Deum originally had organ accompaniment only and was later orchestrated while the version heard here, a particularly attractive one, dates from in between those, and uses both organ and the splendid Wallace Collection of brass players.
The composer adds notes for the booklet, mentioning in the first paragraph how the sound of King's Chapel, its choir and organ, had been a probable "subconscious influence". He also gives his stamp of approval to the present recordings: not only do the three pieces written for King's "sound exactly right here, just as I imagined them" but "so does everything else". That must include the Requiem, which is taken at a generally faster tempo than in his own recording. This is a feature that King's share with the other version on record, by Stephen Layton's Polyphony. My own preference is for either of the others, in their different ways, rather than the new one: Layton's is more sharply etched, the voices fuller in tone and, I think, more imaginative in sympathy, while Rutter's slower tempo puts a different complexion on the work, one which, despite his support for King's, must presumably have been closer to his original intentions.

The King's recording falls somewhere between the other two, not as the happy medium but as the least characterful. This view is strengthened by a further comparison. The fine and festal Cantate Domino goes, one thinks, well enough as sung by King's, but with Polyphony everything is tightened up - tempo, rhythm, contrast - and the result is exhilarating.

John B Steane

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