No living composer is more closely associated with the Christmas season than John Rutter, whose piece Shepherd's Pipe Carol, first placed him on the map of Yule some 35 or so Christmases ago. Rutter is the primary artistic force behind Collegium Records, which in 2002 made a trip to the vaults and culled together The John Rutter Christmas Album. It is the eighth collection of Christmas music with Rutter issued by Collegium, and before you cry "Noël oversaturation!" it is good to know three things about it. Firstly, it is mostly compiled from the Collegium Christmas Day in the Morning and Christmas with the Cambridge Singers, both titles that are no longer available on CD. Secondly, The John Rutter Christmas Album consists entirely of Rutter's own Yuletide-centric original compositions and arrangements. Finally, there are two brand new recordings on this CD.
Stand out tracks here are Wexford Carol, Nativity Carol, What Sweeter Music, and the newly recorded selections Dormi Jesu and Love Came Down at Christmas. One is a little surprised that Collegium did not take advantage of the occasion to re-record some selections that didn't turn out quite so well the first time, particularly Jesus Child and I Saw Three Ships, both of which suffer from ragged coordination, or the lack of it, between choir and orchestra. The John Rutter Christmas Album could be better sequenced than it is; heard beginning to end, it bogs down somewhat at about the beginning of the last third. Nevertheless, Rutter's contribution to Christmas music is unique, and this is a nice survey of it, with only one other collection of its kind available, namely Polyphony's John Rutter: Music for Christmas on Hyperion. So get out the Yule log, the Wassail bowl, and do consider inviting Rutter to your Christmas feast. The dish he brings with The John Rutter Christmas Album is a tasty one indeed.