John Rutter has made his phemonemally successful career primarily through his church music–unfailingly accessible, eminently singable, memorably melodic, with familiar, often pop-flavored harmonies in settings that always respect and honor the texts and promise listeners a satisfying experience. His legacy has been sealed not only by the countless choirs that have sung and recorded his works, but especially through his recordings with his own hand-picked choir, The Cambridge Singers. With this stellar ensemble he has made a distinguished catalog of first-rate performances, not only of his own compositions, but of works by most of the great European choral masters, from Byrd, Brahms, Debussy, and Poulenc to Stanford, Fauré, Vaughan Williams, and Britten. Rutter and his choir also are known for their substantial contribution to the catalog of recorded Christmas music, offering no less than a half dozen titles that are now standard library classics.
This new release from Collegium actually is a compilation of 21 of Rutter’s “church anthems” collected from previous recordings, a logical conceptual package designed both for those who already have these pieces, scattered throughout several CDs, and for newcomers to Rutter’s work. Because the composer/conductor is very involved with and choosy about recording techniques and venues (only two producers and three locations are used in all of these selections), and he is uncompromising regarding a performance’s musical values, sonic and musical consistency from track to track is simply not an issue, even though the recordings cover a period of more than 10 years. If you’re a Rutter fan and you want this interesting mix of very popular and somewhat rare anthems on one disc, I need offer no further encouragement; if you want to know why Rutter is one of today’s most popular and beloved composers, begin with track 4, A Gaelic Blessing, and you’ll understand.