Rutter: Requiem (CD Review - Gramophone Magazine, 1998)

It seems perverse, in a necessarily brief review, to make a mystery or a penance where essentially all is delight. In his short introductory notes John Rutter speaks very frankly of his own position: "I found out a long time ago that if a composer's music starts to reach too many people, it pretty soon gets attacked by those who would prefer the non-specialist public to be kept at arm's length" and (of the Requiem) "I suppose that some will find the sense of comfort and consolation in it facile, but it was what I meant at the time I wrote it, in the shadow of a bereavement of my own." The personal element in both sentences is perfectly acceptable and understandable, yet something is not quite squarely put. If "facile" is a word that might relevantly come into play, it need not be with regard to the "comfort and consolation" (it conceivably could have something to do with the music itself); and if the relatively popular composer's work is indeed "attacked", that may not be entirely out of a wish for exclusiveness. But let's try to put the issue squarely ourselves. Here is music finely crafted, written with love for the art and an especial care for choral sound. It is melodious without being commonplace, harmonically rich without being sticky, modern in the graceful way of a child who grows up responsive to newness but not wanting to kick his elders in the teeth. He gives us, in large measure, the heart's desire: we listen saying "Ah yes!" and with a half-foreseen satisfaction "Yes, Of course! Lovely!" But he's on too familiar terms with our heart's desires, doesn't extend them, or surprise us into realizing that they were deeper and subtler than we thought.

This is by way of cautiously savouring a remembered taste, which could readily be indulged without perceived need for an interval: one item leads to another and before we know it the pleasurable hour is over. The Requiem itself lasts for 36 minutes; the other pieces vary from under two minutes to just over six. Most are unaccompanied and show the choir of 25 voices as another of those expert groups of assured and gifted professionals that are among the principal adornments of modern musical life. Their capacity as a virtuoso choir is tested in the Cantate Domino and Choral Fanfare, but Rutter writes for real singers (not just singer- musicians) and their tone is unfailingly beautiful. Rosa Mannion and Libby Crabtree are excellent soloists, as indeed are the three instrumentalists named in the notes. In the accompanied works the balance between singers and players is well judged, and the booklet is produced with Hyperion's customary good taste and helpfulness.


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