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This new album couples John Rutter's most recent work with one of his most popular. Visions celebrates the utopian ideal of heavenly peace in in four movements written specially for the solo violin of Kerson Leong, string ensemble and the boy choristers of the Temple Church choir. The Requiem of 1985 receives a vital new recording under the guidance of its composer.
I chose four biblical texts which express different aspects of this vision—(1) an introductory description of the imagined city in the words and Gregorian melody of a medieval hymn familiar in the English version beginning ‘Blessed city, heavenly Salem’; (2) Isaiah’s prophetic vision of the coming of Messiah, followed by a lively section which might be a dance of the daughters of Jerusalem; (3) a lament for the desolation of Sion, using a transmuted fragment of both text and melody line from William Byrd’s anthem Bow thine ear, O Lord; and (4), a beatific vision of the holy city as seen by St John in the Book of Revelation.
Requiem was composed in 1985 and first performed in the United States by the church choir of my musical patron and friend Mel Olson. It was not the result of any commission, but simply something which sprang from studying the manuscript of the Fauré Requiem in Paris (could I too write a Requiem?)—and which was spurred on by a wish to remember in music my late father, who had died in the previous year.
Following the precedent established by Brahms and Fauré, among others, it is not a complete setting of the Missa pro defunctis as laid down in Catholic liturgy, but instead is made up of a personal selection of texts, some taken from the Requiem Mass and some from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The seven sections of the work form an arch-like meditation on themes of life and death: the first and last movements are prayers to God the Father on behalf of all humanity, movements two and six are psalms, movements three and five are personal prayers to Christ, and the central Sanctus is an affirmation of divine glory, accompanied by bells as is customary at this point in the Mass. Gregorian chant is used, in fragmentary or disguised form, at several points in the work. Each of the two psalm settings has an instrumental obbligato, a feature inherited from Bach.
In style and scale, Requiem owes more to Fauré and Duruflé than to Berlioz, Verdi or Britten. It is intimate rather than grand, mostly contemplative and lyric rather than dramatic, consolatory rather than grim, approachable rather than exclusive. Would I write the same sort of Requiem today? Perhaps not, but it was what I meant at the time I wrote it, and unlike other genres of composition, a Requiem is something you only write once.
John Rutter © 2016
The reason for recording Visions was fairly obvious: to give its original soloist and choir a chance to capture their performance in a more permanent form than the fleeting première—but why re-record Requiem when I had already recorded it soon after it was written in 1985? Truth to tell, the original recording, although in its time a valuable ambassador for what was then a new work, was beginning to show its age—as digital technology has advanced over thirty years, new high-resolution formats are expected. I also felt it would be interesting to give a new generation of the Cambridge Singers—most of whom were not born at the time of the original recording—an opportunity to see what they could do with what is now a familiar choral work. I have not listened to the original recording for many years, so I must leave comparisons to others, but I can say that the pleasure of being able to record the music twice in a lifetime was real, and equal on both occasions.
John Rutter © 2016