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CLASSICAL  June 2005

CLASSICAL June 2005

Subject:

John Rutter for Orchestra and Choir

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 27 Jun 2005 08:31:45 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (112 lines)

           John Rutter
      Gloria and Distant Land

*  Gloria
*  Come down, O Love divine
*  Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace
*  To everything there is a season
*  I my Best-Beloved's am
*  Praise the Lord, O my soul
*  I will lift up mine eyes
*  As the bridegroom to his chosen
*  A Clare Benediction
*  The Lord is my light and my salvation
*  Go forth into the world
*  Thy perfect love
*  Te Deum

Andrew Lumsden (organ), Polyphony, The City of London Sinfonia, The Wallace
Collection/Stephen Layton
Hyperion CDA67259 Total time: 77:51

*  Distant Land
*  5 Meditations
*  Suite for Strings
*  Suite Antique
*  Beatles Concerto

Andrew Nicholson (flute), John Birch (harpsichord), Peter Rostal & Paul
Schaefer (piano duo), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/John Rutter
Decca B0001821-02 Total time: 78:22

Summary for the Busy Executive: Minor canon (small guns).

John Rutter has essentially hit the classical composer's equivalent of
the Powerball lottery.  In an age where very few want to pay for new
serious art, he has made a very nice living.  More power to him.  I'm
happy somebody's beaten the odds.

Rutter is a thorough professional and approaches his work professionally.
He has a huge catalogue of saleable stuff - including a ton of Christmas-carol
arrangements, easy church anthems, and so on.  He's written and continues
to write so much, he's become practically a cottage industry.  Much of
it strikes me as routine, mindlessly pretty.  Very little holds on to
me.  Worse, a lot of it reminds me of Jonathan Winters improvising a
Rodgers & Hammerstein musical.  I feel that anybody could have written
it, if not for artistic conscience.  Rutter to me has been far too easy
on his considerable talent.

Of course, one can find exceptions to this, because he does have genuine
talent.  However, Rutter serious almost always stands in the shadows
of his models.  His Gloria apes Walton's late masterpiece, and pretty
anemically, too.  His "Wildwood Carol" feeds on the genius of Holst and
Vaughan Williams, without contributing much Rutter.  For me, his best
work is his Requiem, a combination of Walton and, in the lyric bits,
Faure.  I understand the Faure and the Walton.  Many have recognized
Rutter as one of the world's scholarly experts on the Faure Requiem and,
of course, Rutter routinely goes to Walton when he needs High Significance.
But the Rutter Requiem goes beyond mimicry to something personal.  No
other work of Rutter's comes close to that benchmark.

Of the choral music disc, I care for only the Gloria, Come down, O
Love divine, the very elegant, choral-savvy and Howells-like I my
Best-Beloved's am, Thy perfect love (which owes more than a little to
Warlock's "Balulalow"), and the Te Deum.  The rest of it seems to me
elevator music for the church.  I like best about the Gloria its scoring
- choir, organ, brass, and modest percussion - placing it within the
reach of a middle-class congregation.  The Te Deum, like the Gloria,
borrows from Walton and (also like the Gloria) pales in a direct comparison.
It also pales in comparison to the examples by Vaughan Williams and
especially by Britten.  In fact, one can say that of every piece on
the disc which has a competing setting.  Rutter's setting of Psalm
121 is pretty small beer, next to Kodaly's, for example.  Nevertheless,
there's real composition going on in the Te Deum, not merely a
quick-get-it-done-and-settle in pieces like To everything there is a
season.

The instrumental CD, Distant Land, confirms both the modesty of Rutter's
talent and that he is essentially a vocal composer.  Practically everything
on this disc is based on vocal music, either by Rutter or by Lennon,
McCartney, Harrison, or Anon.  The Five Meditations, for example, merely
orchestrate five Rutter choral pieces, like "What sweeter music," familiar
to most listeners from its inclusion in a Volvo commercial.  If you know
the choral pieces, you have little reason to listen to their instrumental
knock-offs.  Rutter doesn't even try to give these pieces symphonic
reach.  The Suite for Strings arranges traditional folk songs, much like
the Holst Suite No.  2 for Military Band or the St.  Paul's Suite for
strings.  The string writing is neatly efficient.  Despite the occasional
appropriation from Holst, the score's overall effect remains more like
Victor Young's score to The Quiet Man - not much more than "nice," and
with nary a touch to make you really notice or care.  Suite Antique
stands as the exception to the vocal rule, with no recycling in sight.
It's pretty enough, in a pops-ish way, and I liked the last movement,
"Rondeau," best.  But unlike many light masterpieces, it gives me no
reason to listen to it again.

For me, the Beatles Concerto, for two pianos and orchestra, constitutes
far and away the best work on the program and the only real reason to
buy the disc.  Rutter doesn't make things easy on the soloists, and the
thing sounds great, at least.  As opposed to the Five Meditations, Rutter
tries to put the tunes into the mold of the Big Boppin' Romantic Concerto
(Rachmaninoff Division), without ever achieving a true symphonic synthesis.
It may be in part a matter of recognizing too many of the constituent
cells even divorced from the immediate context of their songs.  Still,
it's a step up from the Boston Pops arrangements of these tunes, although
light years behind the wit and dash of Joshua Rifkin's Baroque Beatles
Book or even some of the King's Singers and Swingle Singers settings.

The performers are all first-rate.  Layton and Polyphony sound as good
as I've ever heard them.  Rutter long ago added expert conductor to his
resume.  The sound is yummy on both discs.

Steve Schwartz

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