Positioned at the heart of St Paul’s Cathedral, John Rutter took to the stage to perform a concert dedicated to his life as composer and conductor. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was on top form, playing with gusto for Mozart’s Requiem, showing experience and empathy towards the soloists whose voices with pointed vibrato carried across the vast venue. The Bach Choir performed with clarity and presented a determined effort towards diction, battling the grand acoustic of the Cathedral.

Marta Fontanals-Simmons © Hazard Chase
Marta Fontanals-Simmons
© Hazard Chase
The combined forces of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and The Bach Choir, of which Rutter coincidentally is Vice President, kicked off proceedings with a grand opening to Mozart’s Requiem. The tone emanating from the choir was angelic and filled the Cathedral. However, despite the quality of the music, the words were barely audible until the choir found their stride. Soprano Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson displayed a bright and rich vocal quality which spun on top of the RPO’s luscious accompaniment. Rutter appeared completely at home in the monumental venue and conducted his ensemble with strict, direct gestures, bending over his music stand to persuade the choir to give more. Vocally, the Bach Choir was precise, the runs in the Kyrie Eleison perfectly articulated and each part audible whilst sensitively creating a well-balanced blend at times to bring out the dense textures of Mozart’s masterpiece. I wondered how carefully the choir was following when, on occasion Rutter, brought them in, uttering the first syllable loud enough to be heard in the front row, and the choir didn't come in with him. On the other hand, the RPO seemed to be left mostly to their own devices while Rutter concentrated on directing the choir.

Christopher Purves’ opening to the Tuba mirum was rich and velvety with the RPO’s brass section interweaving with a tone to match and complement the baritone. Zachary Wilder’s tenor solo was performed with urgency. Mezzo-Soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons displayed a mature tone, while Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson sang with great direction and captured the phrasing and expression to the extent that it carried as much depth as an operatic aria. Each voice came together to achieve great harmony for the Benedictus quartet.

For the London première of Rutter’s The Gift of Life: Six Canticles of Creation, who better to conduct than the composer himself? Experiencing a composer conducting his own work is always insightful. Rutter adopted a look of joy and pride from the moment the opening bars to his six part work were played and even more so as the choir got into the feel of the piece. The first Canticle was bouncy and I also enjoyed the fourth Canticle from Psalm 104, where the choir handled the a cappella section gracefully. Having sung Rutter for 20 years I enjoy his music, but, have never experienced a straight hour of his compositions. Each Canticle sounded very similar with words changing but with the same syncopations, rhythms and interval patterns as his other works. A lovely touch was the combination of scripture and his own lyrics. Rutter writes well for each voice part, which was evident in the choir’s enjoyment of the performance, however, this means the sound becomes very big as it sits so comfortably in the voice. There were some surprising close harmonies but they were so loud that someone need not wave a banner to point them out.

***11