Over the past couple of decades, the Christmas recordings of John Rutter and his Cambridge Singers have claimed such a solid and widely enjoyed presence among choral music fans that we have to say that this group and its director/composer/arranger have long ago passed from phenomenon to tradition. This new release, which contains 19 previously issued but newly re-mixed tracks along with four never-before released selections, is both a celebration of that legacy and a re-affirmation of Rutter's uniquely influential contributions to a special genre that began years ago with his acclaimed carol arrangements and his now-classic anthem "What sweeter music". While this disc does not feature Rutter's own compositions--those can be found on an earlier companion disc, The John Rutter Christmas Album (type Q5895 in Search Reviews)--it does offer many of his carol arrangements (notably the infectious "Somerset Wassail") along with some of the finest by such masters as David Willcocks, H. Walford Davies, and Healey Willan (whose rarely-heard setting of "What is this lovely fragrance?" is happily included rather than the fine but ubiquitous Willcocks version).
The program also provides a very healthy dose of original pieces, from Victoria's O magnum mysterium, Handel's For unto us a child is born, Kenneth Leighton's Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child, and Britten's A New Year Carol, to Sweelinck's double-choir Hodie Christus natus est, John Tavener's The Lamb, and Peter Warlock's Balulalow and I saw a fair maiden. The disc ends with Vaughan Williams' rousing Fantasia on Christmas Carols. As you might expect, there's not a dull moment during this very generously filled 77-plus-minute CD, and there's so much joy and beauty in these well-chosen, perfectly sung pieces that a simple numerical rating doesn't do it justice. The sound is appropriately full, vibrant, clear, and dynamic. Add this to your list. [11/8/2003]
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com