Rutter: Psalmfest

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: John Rutter
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Rutter
WORKS: Psalmfest; Lord, Thou hast been our refuge; This is the day; Psalm 150
PERFORMER: Elizabeth Cragg (soprano), Pascal Charbonneau (tenor), Mike Allen (trumpet), Tom Winpenny (organ); St Albans Cathedral Choir and Abbey Girls Choir; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Lucas
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 8.573394

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John Rutter’s Psalmfest dates back to 1993, when he parcelled together seven church anthems written over a 20-year period with two new ones for concert hall consumption. Oddly, given Rutter’s immense popularity, this is the work’s first complete recording – and it is a notably good one. ‘O be joyful in the Lord’ sets the tone: the bright, chattering orchestration and chirpy syncopations are quintessential Rutter, and the rousingly fresh-toned response of the St Albans singers lifts the music vibrantly clear of the choir folders.

The pétillant ‘O clap your hands’ and brassy ‘O praise the Lord of heaven’ elicit equally exuberant performances, but Psalmfest is made of more than trademark zesty rhythms and cheerful tambourine rattles. ‘I will lift up mine eyes’ is sweetly reflective, if not exactly introspective, and has impressive sectional contributions from the lay clerks. ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ mines a similar vein of quiet consolation, and adds soprano and tenor soloists to the choral writing.

Of the three filler pieces, Lord, Thou hast been our refuge is the most substantial, and sports a ringing trumpet obbligato, excellently played by Mike Allen. Darker harmonies and more equivocal moods are explored in this setting, and conductor Andrew Lucas rises splendidly to the challenge in what is unquestionably the programme’s finest single performance.

For Rutter completists, the Psalmfest premiere makes buying this CD is a no-brainer. They’re fortunate the job has been so professionally executed by the St Albans forces, and that the sound is warmly atmospheric.

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Terry Blain