In my review here of the John Rutter Piano Album a few months ago, I noted in my conclusion:
“Having produced such sumptuous and elevating transcriptions of eight non-seasonal songs, is it too much to hope that Rutter will return soon with a collection of his most beloved seasonal favourites?”
Well, I’m thrilled to let you know that Rutter is indeed back with a volume of eight choice Christmas classics neatly transcribed for solo piano. So let’s jump straight in…
8 Best-loved seasonal classics…
For many around the world, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without the many choral pieces John Rutter has contributed to the repertoire over his long, distinguished composing career.
Indeed, I remember my own days singing The Shepherd’s Pipe Carol as a young treble chorister, and being smitten with its catchy tune. Of course in the decades since, many more seasonal classics have been added to Rutter’s catalogue, in addition to his best-selling Christmas choral albums.
For this new collection of solo piano transcriptions, Rutter has selected the following 8 favourites, starting with a brand new addition:
- A Child’s Lullaby (2020)
- Angels’ Carol (1988)
- Candlelight Carol (1985)
- Nativity Carol (1967)
- The Colours of Christmas (2011)
- The Very Best Time of Year (1985)
- What Sweeter Music (1988)
- Mary’s Lullaby (1979), and Epilogue
Solo Piano Transcriptions
Those who have already enjoyed The John Rutter Piano Album will know that there’s no need to doubt Rutter’s skill in creating artistically satisfying and sensitively pianistic versions of his choral classics.
Here, more than before, he retains the voicing of those classic choral arrangements, the melody (and its associated lyrics) frequently appearing in the tenor range, a device Rutter employs regularly in his choral writing, but which was less evident in the previous piano collection.
This contributes to the more sonorous quality that many of these arrangements have, lending them even greater warmth.
As with the previous collection, the writing here would suit an early advanced player (around UK Grades 6-7), calling upon a wide range, control of inner voices and counterpoint, and a fully-formed pedalling technique.
Special mention must be made of Mary’s Lullaby, the eighth and final transcription in the album, not only because I enjoyed it the most of all, but also because Rutter has added an Epilogue which pays tribute to “the memory of my friend George Shearing, who liked this carol.”
That Rutter so convincingly and eloquently emulates the highly chromatic jazz stylings of Shearing in this short coda is a telling reminder of Rutter’s musical versatility, and a poignant tribute to one of this country’s greatest jazz pianists, who died back in 2011.
The OUP Publication
While The John Rutter Piano Album appeared in an understated cover back in the summer, this seasonal collection is appropriately draped in deliciously glitzy festive colours:
The book feels a little thicker because, although it includes 8 pieces like its predecessor, some of these arrangements are longer and fuller than those in his first Piano Album, requiring an increase from 28 to 36 pages.
As always, Oxford University Press’s score is beautifully and clearly presented, with a clean and ideally-sized music font.
The words to the songs are included, and together with the performance indications there’s a risk of the pages feeling busy at times, but OUP masterfully ensure everything is in its correct place for maximum ease of reading.
The only omission here is a lack of fingering suggestions.
Christmas 2020, like so many other annual highlights, seems likely to be overshadowed by the sombre news of COVID and the social restrictions that the current situation necessitates.
And yet there is an opportunity too for us all to share, in our smaller family groups, an intimate communal and even more avowedly spiritual season of goodwill this winter.
With a likely absence of hearty singing, joyous church and concert celebrations, we are fortunate indeed to have this timely publication, which offers us a succession of truly superb piano realisations of Rutter’s beloved Christmas favourites!
Fans of Rutter’s music will of course need no further persuasion to grab a copy of this new release, but for any early advanced player and beyond who enjoys Christmas music, this now joins a select few publications on the essential “must-have” list.
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