Monday, 1 December 2008

John Rutter: Jesus Child

I was never really a big enthusiast of John Rutter’s choral music – either the liturgical pieces or the more ubiquitous Christmas Carols. However a number of years ago a friend of mine bought me the Hyperion CD ‘Music for Christmas’. This disc is a retrospective of some 22 ‘favourite’ carols by Mr Rutter.
At first I thought ‘Hmmm,’ but I decided to listen to it and to try to approach it with an open mind -free of preconceived notions. Now I must hold my hand up, as they say in the North Country, and admit that there are some really lovely, if largely populist, numbers on this disc. However the one that stood out most was Jesus Child. This carol, along with the attractive Donkey Carol, was composed in the early nineteen seventies and dedicated to ‘Simon Lindley and the boys of St Alban’s School Choir.’
Jesus Child is perhaps the one carol in the repertoires that does not somehow suggest cold and frost and generally seasonal weather – at least from a European perspective. The rhythm and the feel of this music are suggestive of the Caribbean, rather than Cambridge. Even the swing of the words is suggestive of West Indian patois rather than Standard English.
“Have you heard the story that they’re telling ‘bout Beth-le-hem
Have you heard the story of the Jesus Child!”
And of course the refrain nods even more to a ‘gospel music' style– “Sing alleluia, brother, sing alleluia sisters…”
The vocal score appears to suggest that the carol is actually quite long – there are some 12 pages plus selected repeats. Yet the sheer pace of ‘brisk and very light’ ensures that interest never flags. The carol was originally scored for 2 flutes, double bass, claves, maracas, and organ or piano. However it is perfectly effective using only the keyboard instruments.

The Hyperion web site suggests that “John Rutter… has become the musical equivalent of Dickens, synonymous with the season" and that his music has been “colouring Christmases around the world for more than three decades.”

It is easy to see that Christmas music has always remained very dear to Rutter, who regarded the Christmas Carol Service as being the highlight of his musical year. He is quoted as saying that "Christmas is for many people the only time of year when they have contact with choral music". Sad but most probably true.
Listen and watch a performance of Jesus Child on YouTube
John Rutter’s Music for Christmas can be found on Hyperion CDA 67425

1 comment:

Chris Halkides said...

May I put a plug in for the Wild Wood Carol? The contrast between baritone solo and choir reminds one slightly of "A Spotless Rose." This carol does not seem to have become as popular as some of his other music, which is odd.