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A fine 'Mass' and a disappointing 'Shadows'
on 14 September 2006
I bought this CD after being impressed by the Naxos disc of `John Rutter's Requiem. That was something of a revelation, and probably the strongest recording of that work available. This disc is far less impressive.
The Mass of the Children is a fine work. As when recording the Requiem, this Naxos version uses the chamber ensemble version of the work rather than the full orchestral version. As with the Requiem the performance is top notch, both musicians and voices. No one should expect a piece called `Mass of the Children' to be as deep or searching as a Requiem and this is indeed a lighter work. John Rutter was inspired by his experience of singing in Benjamin Britten's War requiem in 1963, but it is a lighter side of Britten's choral writing that inspires him here. The singing is perhaps nearest to Britten's `Ceremony of Carols'. If I had to sum up the style of this work in one phrase it would be `Britten goes to Broadway'. There are some lovely tunes here, starting with the opening Kyrie; the most beautiful melody is saved for the Sanctus and Benedictus, where the tune harks back to the instrumental writing of Bach and Handel. The reduced chamber ensemble accompaniment sounds ideal.
So, having praised the Mass for Children, where is the disappointment? The answer is - in Shadows, the Song Cycle for baritone and guitar which takes up 25 minutes of this disc. It is intended as a homage to 16th century Lute Songs. The opening song Shadows highlights what is wrong here. The guitar accompaniment sounds like 1960's acoustic art rock and simply doesn't go together with the full on classical singing style of Jeremy Huw Williams. As the cycle unfolds another weakness becomes apparent. William's voice if full of life, but Stewart French appears to be sleepwalking through the guitar part.
The quality control returns for the final track `Wedding Canticle' featuring a haunting dreamlike flute and guitar accompaniment. Here the still day dreaming guitarist is in his element.
So. Four Stars for Mass of the children. Two Stars for Shadows and Five stars for Wedding Canticle. I am giving this disc 3 stars overall.