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City of London Sinfonia
The Wallace Collection
Andrew Lumsden – organ
Stephen Layton – conductor
Hyperion CDA 67259

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. TPT 77'51

Few popular composers polarise musical opinion so easily as Rutter. Is he an inspired composer of music permeated with sincerity or a highly-derivative hack who has brought sentimentality to new heights? For sure, there are loud echoes of Walton and Howells, a suggestion of Mahler and Dvorák and perhaps a hint of Copland to be heard in this release, but also no shortage of the beguiling melodies and lush harmonies that bear the hallmarks of Rutter's musical signature. Whatever the merits of Rutter, no one can doubt his contribution to the canon of English church music and, for those firmly ensconced in the Rutter camp, this collection is sure to please.

The disc opens with Gloria, a three-part concert setting of the familiar words from the second section of the Ordinary of the Mass. The brass and percussion of the Wallace Collection and organ blaze a trail that the chamber-sized choir find difficult to match, lacking weight and impact at climaxes. The quality of the singing is not in doubt, and whatever the choir lacks in sheer volume it makes up for in the hauntingly-beautiful central section. Perfectly balanced clusters ebb and flow, accompanied by a filigree solo organ exquisitely played by Andrew Lumsden. The movement gradually unfolds and builds to an impressive climax, followed by outstanding solo contributions from the choir and a return to the dynamic, Walton-inspired music of the opening. Layton directs an absorbing performance that can be enjoyed time and time again.

Cleanly articulated and responsive to the text, Layton and Polyphony are as one, moulding to Rutter's music with an ease that makes for effortless listening.

The blend of the choir is generally very good, but I have serious reservations about the sound of the male-dominated alto section, particularly during solo passages. In Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace, their sound is hard-edged and unappealing (and there's a fleeting clash in the line 'to be understood as to understand' that should never have made the final cut), at odds with the rich sound-world suggested by the harmony, superbly captured by the sustained strings and matched by the other voices. The piece was originally conceived for male voices (tenors and basses), but that's not the issue here. Once heard, it's possible to detect a slight imbalance in the blend of the upper vocal parts that at times is not wholly convincing.

The performance of the miniature As the bridegroom to his chosen, a setting of a fourteenth-century text by John Tauler (shortened by a verse in the accompanying booklet), is typical. Cleanly articulated and responsive to the text, Layton and Polyphony are as one, moulding to Rutter's music with an ease that makes for effortless listening. That is not to suggest that the performances lack contrast or depth for there is plenty of drama to be heard in The Lord is my light and salvation.

Minor criticisms aside, it is hard to believe that there will be more effective recordings to choose from in the near future. Once again Hyperion have delivered an exceptionally clear recording.

Stephen Bray  

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