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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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LAMMAS Records

Arthur WILLS (b.1926)
Icons 1 Very broadly [1'20] 2 Lively [1'13] 3 Very Slow [2'36] 4 Turbulent; As at first [2'58]
Lullaby for a Royal Prince [4'09]
Trio Sonata 1 Allegro [3'17] 2 Adagio alla Siciliana [3'20] 3 Vivace [1'40]
Symphony - Bhagavad Gita 1 Andante - Allegro feroce - Mesto - Allegro triomphante [8'25] 2 Adagietto [6'42] 3 Leggermente - Tenebroso - Con fuoco - Leggero [5'44] 4 Molto Adagio [7'16]
Homage to Howells [4'22]
Diptyque 1 Prologue [6'48] 2 Epilogue [4'28]
Robert Crowley, organ
Rec. Ely Cathedral 27-28 October 2003
LAMMAS LAMM 168D [64'25]

 

One of the doyens of English Cathedral music, Arthur Wills is also a prolific composer whose works span not only church music, but also song cycles, concertos for various, sometimes unlikely, forces, and even an opera.

He is undoubtedly best known for his contribution to the British organ world both as a concert and recording artist and as a composer. Indelibly linked with Ely Cathedral, where he served as Director of Music from 1958 until 1990, he left his mark on the organ there in the mid 1970s when he commissioned a radical, though at the time not unfashionable, rebuild of the 1908 Harrison. The result of which was not without its critics. Despite recent substantial work, including 6 new reeds, the overall effect on the basis of this recording is still dictated more by the ethos of the 1970s than by that of the original instrument. It should be said, however, that the effect is also coloured by the rather dry acoustic and a very slightly claustrophobic recording; probably down to a very high microphone position?

The stylistic elements in Wills' organ music, perhaps unsurprisingly, reflect the nature of the organ. His style is difficult: there are neo-classical elements, atonal elements though his harmonic language is not exclusively atonal by any means, a somewhat free approach to form in the larger pieces and frequently non-musical inspirations. The latter include in this instance religious icons in Cyprus, the pre-Buddhistic 'Bhagavad Gita' and the poetry of Robert Browning. The most attractive pieces are the little Lullaby for a Royal Prince and the Homage to Howells, based on the latter's famous hymn tune 'Michael' ("All my hope on God is founded"). Icons forms an interesting set of miniatures which satisfy more with repeated listening. The larger works are less accessible. The huge and often very virtuosic symphony Bhagavad Gita is especially difficult to follow. What unifying elements are there to classify it as a symphony I wondered?

Robert Crowley is a former student of Arthur Wills and Susi Jeans. He is currently Chapel Organist and Director of Music at St George's School in Harpenden. He deals with the technical challenges in Wills' music with ease, but perhaps lacks the last ounce of commitment needed to bring Wills' music off the page. Still, this is a relevant recording; Wills' larger-scale music deserves to be recorded and the decision to ask one of his former students to perform on the organ Wills knows so well is very sensible.

The booklet contains extensive programme notes, a brief organ history and full specification.

Chris Bragg

 



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