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A major collection of sacred choral music by John Rutter, featuring a host of previously unrecorded works in glittering performances by the Cambridge Singers and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Conducted by the composer, the album ranges across the church's year, incorporating music for Christmas, Epiphany, Pentecost, Easter and Harvest-time.
The two pieces framing the collection, the Wells Jubilate and Winchester Te Deum, were written for important occasions in their respective cathedrals, the Te Deum for the installation of the Dean of Winchester Cathedral in 2006 and the Jubilate for a celebration of the completion of restoration work on Wells Cathedral in 2009; Matthew Owens, organist of Wells, had suggested that a Jubilate would make a suitable companion piece to the Te Deum. On such festive occasions I love the sound of choir, organ and brass, a combination I have used in a number of pieces including my Gloria and to which I happily returned here and in the Easter anthem Most glorious Lord of life, written in 2010 for the choir of Harvard Memorial Church.
St Paul’s Cathedral was the magnificent setting for the first performance of Lord, thou hast been our refuge, written in 2008 for the annual United Guilds’ Service, on which occasion the Lord Mayor and Livery Companies assemble in splendour to give thanks. I was commissioned to write the anthem by the Worshipful Company of Barbers—most of whose members are in fact surgeons. The Guild was marking its 700th anniversary, and the choice of Psalm 90 as text seemed obvious, particularly with its concluding verse ‘prosper thou the work of our hands’.
My local cathedral, Ely, celebrated the 900th anniversary of the diocese in 2009, and I am with you always was written for a Festival Service in May of that year; a chorus formed from choirs in the diocese filled the octagon, and the slow, measured pace of the music was dictated partly by the practical consideration of keeping these large forces together. Look to the day was also premièred in Ely Cathedral, at a special service in 2007 organised by the charity Cancer Research UK. Their wish for the anthem they asked me to write was that it should give thanks for victories already won and look to those still to come.
Also in my locality, the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, and its renowned choir, have a special place in my heart. The unique acoustic of the chapel seems to call forth a certain kind of music, and Veni Sancte Spiritus, written in 1998 at the invitation of the choir’s director Stephen Cleobury, perhaps reflects this in having a more mystical tone than might generally be associated with me—though an invocation to the Holy Spirit can hardly be down-to-earth.
The choir of my alma mater, Clare College Cambridge, has played a continuing and cherished part in my life. In 2009, to mark his final Christmas season as Director of Music, Timothy Brown invited me and two other Cambridge composers to write a cappella carols for the choir. For this I turned, as often before, to the great treasury of medieval English carol texts; The King of Blis was the result. The influence of medieval music can be felt in its sometimes stark, open harmonies and irregular rhythms.
O Lord, thou hast searched me out was written in 2007 in memory of another great Cambridge choral director, Dr George Guest, who for almost forty years presided over the choir of St John’s College. I chose the text as being appropriate for Ash Wednesday, when the anthem was to be first performed, discovering only later that it had been Dr Guest’s favourite psalm: the opening verse is inscribed on his memorial plaque in St John’s chapel.
Two voluntary organisations invited me to write, respectively, Look at the world (1996) and Carol of the Magi (2009). The first of these was for the Council for the Protection of Rural England, which was looking for a widely-usable choral song or anthem on the theme of the environment and our responsibility towards it; and the second was for Red Balloon, a Cambridge-based charity dedicated to the recovery of bullied children. The text of Carol of the Magi was nourished by two strangely converging influences: T. S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, and the traditional folk belief in Mediterranean countries that in the face of every child we see the face of Christ.
I have included To every thing there is a season as an expression of the theme of this album, and also in memory of Edward Dalton, the choir director for whom I wrote it in 1997. He inspired generations of high school students to know and love choral music and to attain excellence in performance. I met him regularly on my conducting visits to New York and looked upon him as a friend, a support, and a role model to me and to many.
John Rutter © 2010